One of the most fascinating conversations out of dinner (one that renewed itself in the morning), was a discussion of the place that ego has in the creative process.

Years ago, I found myself deep-pondering the troubling question of “how do you know that good is good enough?” Although that spectre of self-doubt is not as consuming for me as it once was, it still raises some interesting questions.

I knew a singer, once, back when I was studying music at the Henry Street Settlement in NYC. The young man would bring a tape recorder onstage during recitals and would record himself–not as a self-assessment tool, I discovered, but in a worshipful regard of his truly appalling ability as a singer.

This is the same blind eye that drives so many people into auditions for programs like American Idol. But it raises a legitimate question: What are we hearing when we hear ourselves as writers, or musicians or artists or whatever?

David Byrne in an interview once offered the opinion that artists, having big egos, tend to think they can drag their audiences along into even the most unlikely new venture, saying “trust me, trust me.” Certainly, there is a certain amount of trust in one’s own voice involved in the creative process–a combination of craft, experience and ability that informs the instinctive steps by which we pull inspiration from out of the air.

Yet….

Is the voice always true? Can that unshakeable faith in our own abilities actually deafen us to the truer, franker, fairer, more critical voices of self-assessment? Can ego stand in the way of realizing a better creative product, an influence every bit as destructive as crippling self-doubt? Would X writer or Y musician wind up with a better, more fully-realized work if their egos weren’t whispering so convincingly in their ears?

Which brings the thought full-circle. When is good enough good enough? And how the hell will you ever know?

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