B and I recently watched The Martian. B had already read the book, and I was curious about the plot. I knew Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is alone on Mars, and that it is an ‘award-winning comedy.’ (There are spoilers ahead. I’d recommend you watch or read The Martian before continuing.)
It seems inevitable that whenever a character is in space, nearly everything that could go wrong, will go wrong. When I watch survival or space movies, I often have a thought pattern during the rising action of the movie, ending with the question: How would I survive in this situation? I’m not smart enough or strong enough to do a lot of this work. I’d die on SOL 100, at least, or whenever I ran out of my rationed supplies. I’d potentially drive myself mad by overthinking before my skills failed me. Of course, I realize being alone in space is unlikely for me. I was a journalism major, not even a minor in computer engineering or astrophysics, so the chances I’d ever go to space are slim. (Thank. God.) But I still question what my method of survival would be.
Mark Watney is a botanist astronaut. After being left for dead by his team on Mars, he counts his food and supplies and decides how he’ll ration what he has left to figure out how many days he can survive. Internal dialogue: Okay - I’m with you so far. I can count and organize. Realizing he will run out of food long before another mission to Mars, he decides to try to plant and grow potatoes on Mars, which has no history of growing anything new. I will not give too many details here, in case you’d like to see how he develops this plan, but I was amazed with how quickly he made decisions, while knowing his life depended on it. Mark solved one problem, then tackled the next problem. Working alone, he used his knowledge and skills from many classes, trainings, and areas of study to make confident decisions. He knew his skills, trusted them, pushed them to their limits, and it saved his life. Watching Mark make decisions and take action caused me to ask myself a new question. Instead of thinking, ‘How would I survive? I’m not a strong and super smart scientist. I would die,’ I thought, ‘What skill could I grow and trust enough to start solving problems confidently like Mark?’
I immediately thought of writing.
Even though I’ve studied the techniques, practiced and developed my writing, I still feel like I’m a novice. I often depend on others to review my work and to give their stamp of approval out of the fear I’ll miss a mistake. When I’m writing therapeutically (mostly kept private,) I trust myself to keep good technique in mind but any mistakes don’t shake my confidence. If I’m writing for public viewing, I lack the confidence to develop my work by problem solving on my own. It is difficult for me to trust that acting alone will be good enough. But, with Mark Watney as my example, I think I’ve realized this:
Building my skill will ensure I get plenty of practice. With repetition, I know I’ll begin to improve at working through my own solutions. Once I begin to stack these little wins for myself, my confidence will grow too. Being confident in my skills will allow me to trust myself. It all begins with dedicating myself to learning and practicing my skill like my life depends on it.