The danger of 10% evil

tiny metal gargoyle figurine

Many years ago, I was in the world’s worst acting class.

Its badness was made possible by its goodness. Much like a relationship where you’re slowly gaslighted into madness until a gigantic Acme mallet (or Joseph Cotten) shows up to snap you out of it, about 90% of what went down was fine, excellent, even.

Which is precisely why the remaining 10% was so dangerous: plenty of inert matter to make the poison go down smoothly.

* * * * *

Do you think about money often? I think about it quite a bit, just before I shove the thoughts from my head in a holy panic.

My lifelong attitude toward money mimics my childhood attitude toward adulthood: Lots of power; too much scary. RUN! The thing is, of course, you really can’t avoid either. Or at some point, you just realize that avoiding them is more exhausting than giving in. And when you do finally settle into one or the other (or both) a bit, when you start handling your money with respect or learning to delay gratification in favor of prudence and responsibility, you see that it’s not really dollars or years that you’re scared of; they’re just dollars and years.

You’re scared of that part of you that you think is incompetent. Or vain. Or maybe flat-out evil, you devil, you.

You’re scared that the small, not-so-good part of you will override the big, pretty-okay part of you and ruin everything. That you will be left alone, reviled and ridiculed for the incompetent/vain/flat-out-evil devil you are. That you will die.

It doesn’t matter that it won’t, you won’t, and you probably won’t for a long, long time. That 10% of you puts on a really convincing show.

* * * * *

One thing I learned in that horrible-wonderful acting class was that a well-drawn character wants something more than anything else, and over the course of a well-played scene, will use every trick in her personal playbook to get it. (We call the wants “intentions” and the tricks used to get it “tactics.” Now you can impress your actor friends with your inside knowledge.)

Here’s the conundrum, the strongest want is nothing without an equally strong obstacle in the way of that want: Al Pacino thwarting Robert DeNiro in Heat; the survivors racing against the water in The Poseidon Adventure; Ray Milland battling himself in The Lost Weekend. It can exist without or within, but if you take away the immovable object, the unstoppable force whizzes frictionless through nothingness, fizzling out somewhere far, far past our interest in watching it. The tension between the two is what fuels the creativity of the characters and heightens the suspense.

More tension, better show.

No tension, no show.

* * * * *

I’m working on a huge (HUGE) project for my upcoming birthday this September. It’s the kind of project that could be astonishing and life-changing and crazy, crazy fun if it comes together, not just for me, but potentially for a lot of other people, you included. And if it falls apart, of course, it is one of those things that will make me, and only me, look stupid. The flavor of fail I am more afraid of than anything.

Here’s the hilarious (and predictable) part: as the deadline for each part of the project has approached, I’ve balked. You’re coming off of a five-month Crohn’s flare. You need to focus on your business. You’ll have to call in every favor you have and rack up debt in the favor bank, to boot. The scale is ridiculous. The time frame is insane. You’re insane, even if you pull it off, there’s no assurance it will make any kind of difference.

All of these things are true. Mean to say, but no less true for it.

But what is also true is that so far, all the drama has come from me, myself and I playing out a three-person scene; the universe has been an extraordinarily compliant scene partner.

So it’s 90% good that I’m 10% evil. Otherwise this sucker might never get liftoff.

* * * * *

I don’t know how you discern between regular shadow and the toxic kind in the moment. These sorts of calculations almost always benefit from some time and/or distance. Seth wrote an excellent book about knowing when to stop (and when to plow through) that I should probably re-read. Byron Katie came up with those four questions that do a pretty good job of rooting out untruths.

If you put a gun to my head, I’d say the danger of 10% evil crosses over from frisson to “Warning, Will Robinson!” when you feel yourself starting to disappear. The point of danger, this kind of danger, is to make you stronger. There were people in that horrible acting class who were well served by it. I was one of them for a while, and then I wasn’t, and then I left.

But I don’t think you should wish away evil any more than you should wish away time. Instead, wish for the alertness to stay on your toes. Wish for help from the muse finding creative ways to slay your dragons. Wish for courage. Wish for vision.

Then get that show on the road.


Image by downhilldom1984 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. “Don’t wish things were easier, wish you were better”

    I think Jim Rohn said that and I hate that saying when things are going tough. I don’t want to be better, I want things to be easier, I want the evil to go away like you say.

    But after it all, after ploughing through and coming out the other end it is nice to look back and know that you are just a little better than you were before :-)

  2. Making peace with that 10% and recognizing that it’s an active, important part of getting what we most desire is so effing hard. SO. Effing. Hard. But it can be done! One of the best things I ever did in the self-work area was to name that 10% and talk to it like a person. I might come off a bit crazy, but damn if it doesn’t make things better.

  3. Wow! Another inspiring post with more reminders to go on my bathroom mirror.

    And happy pre-birthday to you, dear one. What an exciting time for you. Keep us in the loop.

    Let’s go for all that gold hidden in the Shadow.

    1. And happy pre-birthday to you, dear one.

      Thank you!

      Keep us in the loop.

      Oh, you can bet on it. I only hope I don’t make all y’all sick of me before I’m done!

  4. So true – that 10% can just drown ya while you’re really just thrashing around in the kiddie end of the pool and everything is perfectly safe.

    Good for you for trying something scary with a big downside. That kind of adventure reminds us all that we are still alive. And really, aren’t you more impressed with people who work hard, dream big and love without reservation? Sure they get smacked down every once in a while but, man, it’s breathtaking to be around their excitement.

    You go for it! And remember, it’s always scary when we are close to a dream (that’s my great brother’s wisdom).

    p.s. I think you recommended the War of Art by Stephen Pressfield… fabulous reminder for artists about just doing the work and letting others worry about the outcome.

  5. This is a wonderful article. I’ve been dealing with those nasty thoughts myself – it’s all about sticking your neck out there and battling those pesky thoughts in the mind. As I’ve been digging deeper into my customer avatars (yes I have two), these are the worries that stop them. I might fail, I will look stupid. And of course I have those as well. It’s nice to know I have company. And it’s nice to know about The Work of Byron Katie. It’s my industrial strength tool for anything that is holding me back. Can’t wait to see what you are creating.

    1. RE: avatars, I think it’s fine to have a few. Realistic, even.

      It’s probably one thing that stops me from doing them: too much! Too much!

      (I know, I know—physician, heal thyself. What can I say? We contain multitudes, right?)

      Thanks, Sherold.

  6. You have really had your game on lately. It’s like you can hear the voices in my head. Thanks for voicing these things so well.

    As for your big project, here’s my take: you are rocking it. You are in the zone and it’s shining through everything you do. Can’t wait to see the results.

  7. Oh, I love this post! There is something oh so relieving about knowing that we all have similar big, juicy and noisy fears!! and that we also have fabulous tools and thought leaders whose words and wisdom help us listen to that 10% with a discerning ear! So excited to see what you are cooking up Colleen…great titillating bite of excitement!

  8. If you need some help pulling off your bday project, give me a shout. I’ve got some skills, am local and am intimately familiar with what a five month flare means. Great post!

  9. This post was so inspiring… I loved reading it. It really makes one feel better when you can realize that others go through the same emotions, too.
    “So it’s 90% good that I’m 10% evil. Otherwise this sucker might never get liftoff.” – this is what stuck with me the most.

  10. If we were 100% good, completely perfect, 100% happy 100% of the time, then we would have no need of hope. The 10% evil keeps us human, keeps us humble. Let’s us know we can be better if we choose (also love that quote that Amy Harrison provided at the top of the comments). The 10% shows us, well, us. The rub is acknowledging it instead of ignoring it or hiding it to appear like we have it all together. The bigger rub is doing our own self-inventory and not getting “all up in” someone else’s 10% of evil.

    Kudos to you and your bday project, I suspect the universe has a vast conspiracy of people eager to help you spankin’ rock that joint!

  11. Thank you for sharing Colleen. What came to my mind reading this is: Which dog do you feed…? And how much of your inner power are you willing to give away vs. gain? Having recently embarked on a “dialing for dollars” marketing campaign, it is, without a doubt, worth to do the work. If nothing else, the sense of fulfillment and peace that inevitably results is rather gratifying and soothing.

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