Perhaps we're all at war against a lingering God complex.

Written by Cole Schafer


Building an audience can be dangerous.

You grab a mic, take to the stage and start carrying on about something or another.

Eventually, someone comes sauntering into the auditorium, interested in what you have to say and suddenly you have a responsibility to that person… a responsibility to entertain them, educate them, inspire them, and most importantly… be honest with them.

If you do a reasonable job at one or all of the above, this individual will tell her friend and her friend will tell her friend and if you’re lucky, your auditorium will one day become standing room only.

This is where the danger lies.

When the creative’s auditorium becomes standing room only and thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people aren’t just listening to what the creative has to say but are agreeing with what he has to say… it creates the perfect petri dish for a God Complex to form.

While my “auditorium” ( AKA Honey Copy and my newsletter’s Stranger Than Fiction and Sticky Notes) certainly couldn’t be described as “standing room only”, the seats are fairly packed and folks are nodding their heads and I’m finding it harder and harder to call bullshit on myself.

This article is my attempt at bringing myself back down to Earth; it’s my attempt to regain some of the awareness I’ve felt I have lost these past few years. So, please excuse me as I climb atop a butcher block of my own making…

To begin, I’m trying to be better at taking constructive criticism.

My grandfather’s desk was solid oak and heavier than a Grand Piano, stained a deep coffee-colored hue and accented with natural wood grains that ran for miles.

To the adult eye, it was a glimmering masterpiece. But, to a five-year-old like me, it was an indoor jungle gym.

The moment I would walk in his front door I would sprint to his desk, and poke and prod its keyholes and slide its noisy roll-out top up and down, boisterously, sending a sound like a working conveyor belt through the halls of my grandparent’s home.

On one particular adventure, I recall opening a drawer to find two dozen Twizzlers in a Ziploc sitting atop a manila folder.

They were slightly different than the Twizzlers I was used to eating –– they were Black.

This difference, however, didn’t stop me from placing several of the Twizzlers in my mouth and biting down with a great chomp.

When my tastebuds realized the depths of their misfortune I spit up the foul-tasting candy in a black muddy heap on my grandfather’s white carpet and ran to him, almost in tears, looking for comfort from the heinous creation I had just stuck in my mouth.

My grandfather would later tell me that black licorice was an acquired taste. I would venture to say the same in regards to criticism.

Receiving criticism in my work as a writer is one of the hardest things I have to deal with. It’s a foul-tasting, ego-pummeling, day-ruining side of my business I wish I could do without.

Something that has helped me is instead of reaching across the table or through the phone or around the email inbox and strangling the criticizer… I’m pausing, saying thank you and politely excusing myself from the phone call or conversation so I can chew on the black licorice without puking it up.

24-hours later, I almost always respond better.

As someone who makes a living writing, I receive a tremendous amount of criticism –– certainly more than I ask for –– and like the black licorice, I’m still learning how to resist the urge to spit it out on the living room carpet.

Secondly, my insecurities cause me to be judgmental of others.

There are times when I can be harsh in my judgments of others.

I’ve come to realize that these harsh judgments are usually a reflection of the fears and insecurities I’m feeling internally.

If I’m heavily judging another writer’s work, they are embodying or sparking some sort of insecurity I have in my own work.

Over the years, I’ve attempted to battle my judgmental tendencies by reminding myself “not to be judgmental”.

But, isn’t this like telling someone on a diet not to think about chocolate cake?

If you tell yourself… “Whatever you do, don’t think about chocolate cake”… you’ll probably find yourself thinking a great deal about chocolate cake.

The same can be said for when approaching judgment.

Instead of working on the judgmental side of myself to become less judgmental, I’m working to use the judgments I’m feeling like an internal compass of sorts to find and address my own insecurities.

I’m asking myself the question…

“Am I really hating on so and so’s work because it’s bad or because it’s making me feel insecure about [fill in the blank]?”

Addressing judgment begins by addressing the judgment that’s happening within.

My relationships suffer because of my need to be right.

A few days ago, I almost lost a close friend.

Not from a car crash nor a doctor’s call… but because of pride.

He had expressed criticism over a few world views and ethos of mine in a pretty shitty way by saying something along the lines of…

“You have world views that I know in my heart of hearts are just flat out wrong.”

Suddenly, our friendship was on the brink of total destruction because he was obsessed with getting me to admit I was wrong on a particular world view and I was obsessed with defending that world view.

We’ve since taken a step back and I think we’re in the process of realizing that while there are certain qualities about one another we disagree with, we deeply admire almost everything else about the other person.

While we’re still recovering and I hope that eventually, we will recover in full, this will be a lesson I take with me for the rest of my life…

I would rather hold on to a friendship that means the world to me and be “wrong” than lose the friendship and be “right”.

I don’t think I’m asking good enough questions.

Good friends don’t seek to provide friends with answers but instead, encourage their friends to ask the right questions so that they themselves can come to an answer on their own.

When it comes to both myself and my friendships, sometimes I jump the gun and look to give immediate advice and feedback rather than listening, asking the right questions and acting as more of a sounding board.

I’ve mentioned this before in a newsletter but my friend Jeremy Raley is extraordinary at asking damn good questions. He’s able to get you to explore nooks and crannies of your brain you didn’t realize existed by asking a simple question you haven’t yet asked yourself.

So, in short, I want to do a better job of asking myself and those around me better questions. Tony Robbins, whether you love him or hate him, was onto something when he said…

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”

“Sorry… but” isn’t an apology. 

The hardest thing in the world is apologizing, because it is admitting fault in yourself. This is the very reason why both myself and the vast majority of humankind aren’t great at apologizing.

Like wiping one’s ass, it’s not something that comes particularly natural. It’s something we must be taught, and even then, each time we sit down to the toilet to take a shit we must remind ourselves to wipe thoroughly or risk the shit lingering.

Saying “Sorry… but” isn’t an apology.

It’s simply justifying bad behavior which is just as bad as exhibiting the bad behavior in the first place.

To really beat the hell out of this shit analogy, I’d liken it to thinking “one wipe” will do the job.

When I hurt someone I’m working to just simply say… “I’m sorry” and keeping the “but” completely out of the conversation.

I think a sure-fire way to become a better person is to become better at saying sorry.

It sounds ridiculous and cheesy but I’d love for people to remember me as someone that apologized, sincerely, when he shit the bed.

I’m drawing boundaries in my friendships and relationships.

Let’s revisit the situation with the friend I shared in short-coming number two.

As the two of us have begun to take a step back, we’ve realized that while we are certainly good friends, something very strange happens between the two of us when we attempt to discuss writing, work, feedback, criticism, etc.

Tensions seem to rise, unnecessary tensions, tensions that aren’t conducive to a good healthy friendship.

I’m still working to get to the bottom of this tension but I think it might be because we have more of a rivalry than we initially realized.

But, that’s neither here nor there.

What the two of us have since decided is to remove that aspect of our friendship entirely… because in the broader scheme of things… our friendship matters a great deal more than any disagreement we could ever have over one another’s work.

This, in my opinion, isn’t avoidance but maturity.

You will have some relationships where criticism flows freely and easily between the two of you like water and you will have other relationships where the two of you bond better by sharing a glass of vodka and sushi. Neither is better than the other, they’re just different.

My friendships and relationships seem to get fucked up when I place expectations on them that don’t belong there.

If you can picture a relationship or friendship like a bridge, it’s important to realize there is only so much weight that the bridge can take. You must choose what weight to place on it and what weight to keep off.

I’m working to be better at knowing what weight to place on what friendships and relationships while working on being a friend that can handle more weight myself.

With that said, I’m remembering that I am a work in progress and so are others.

In my book, One Minute, Please? I write something that I still deeply believe in today.

It goes a little something like this…

“When we remember that the people we stumble into on a day to day basis are all just works-in-progress, it gives us permission to have greater patience, compassion and love towards them. Not unlike themselves, they’re trying to pilot the plane while they build it. They’re learning as they go. Failing more often than succeeding. And, at times, finding themselves desperately close to giving up. If we have one single responsibility as humans, it’s to love (or at the very least respect) one another through this work-in-progress. It’s being empathetic to the fact that nobody is exactly who they want to be, nor where they want to be, but they’re working like hell to get there.”

I’m trying to constantly remember these words both for myself and for those I come into contact with each day.

And, that having a mic and a packed auditorium makes me nothing more than a human on a stage with something half-way interesting to say.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.