I watched the So You Think You Can Dance Vegas week now that I'm no longer curled up in bedridden misery and I was struck by a curious pattern.
Again and again, dancers went into the rounds feeling confident and they were cut. It surprised me. Isn't confidence supposed to be desirable, inspiring others to like you because you like yourself? Some of it was likely an attempt to play up the drama for the camera but what if there's something more to it.
When you aren't confident, you question yourself and your choices. You're searching constantly to make things better. Of course, if you really aren't confident, you won't have the internal strength to stick to your decisions about what's better, so you have to have some faith in yourself. But what if the dancers who were confident stopped pushing themselves to improve as much? Stopped searching for those tiny edges that can transform a performance into something extraordinary?
I've seen this pattern in novels. The first novel is ruthlessly attacked by the editor and the rasping refines the story into something greater than the author could achieve alone. But by the third or fourth book in a popular series, I imagine the editors become more reluctant to mess with the author's vision. Thus the stories are a little sloppier, without the fine edge.
I don't think it's possible to achieve greatness without someone else to bounce things off of. Someone who challenges our blind spots and wears away the unnecessary roughness. I don't think it's a coincidence that brilliance tends to come in packs (think Plato and Aristotle; Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry; the great trinity of George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Jim Henson). The mind can't think around its own corners.