It’s All Smoke and Mirrors

In my checkered career I’ve studied business, design and journalism, worked in PR, been a graphic designer and a magazine editor, and I now run my second design and advertising company. I’m what they call in Singapore, where I live, a “creative”. I’ve only recently started using that as a noun… I always thought it was an adjective. But, it provides a handy shortcut for me when people ask what I do and I wonder whether to launch into the 20 minute monologue or not.

I’m telling you all this because I wanted to talk a little about something close to my heart… creativity, because in a way it’s a nice metaphor for a lot of things in life.

No doubt we all ARE creative, in that dictionary sense of the word: inventive, original, imaginative and resourceful. But I pay my mortgage by being “a creative”, and I’ve come to think of that as meaning “willing to stick my neck on the line”.

Back in the days when I studied design I did drawing classes. After a few weeks of getting used to having a pencil in our hands, we started getting assignments to do between classes. I remember bringing the first one of those back to class and discovering that we all had to pin them up on the wall and then the teacher would lead the group around the classroom and we’d critique each one. I was horrified. And shy, and humble, and embarrassed. It felt like having to show someone pages from your personal diary and when it came to my turn I’d always grimace and start with “Well, it’s not very good, but…” or “I couldn’t quite get this to work…” or some other precursor to ease the pain of any criticism that might come after.

I did these classes for three years, and they taught me one of the most valuable lessons in the course. That’s NOT the way to present yourself.

As soon as you start with the “It’s not very good, but…” line you might as well hoist the red flag that says “I’m over here, bring your flame thrower”. Because that’s all anyone is going to hear.

It’s the same with “You probably won’t like this gift…”, “I didn’t really have time to get dressed up…”, “It’s not really my area of expertise…” or any number of other defences we slip in to protect ourselves. There’s some wisdom in that old saying that if you’re confident you’ll shine. It spreads through the room like an airborne virus. If you’re confident in yourself, then everyone becomes confident in you.

And what’s not to be confident about? You probably brought all of your considerable talent, common sense, insight and hard work to bear, and no doubt you ran through all kinds of options in your head before you chose the one you thought worked best. Any self-doubt you have is probably 99% your own self-talk playing the devil with you. Like everyone, I tend to think less of my own work than other people do. I see other people’s stuff all the time and think “I wish I’d done that” or “Wow, they’re very talented”, but I never look at my own stuff that way. And I think that’s healthy. A bit of self-confidence is good, but there’d be something unhealthy about thinking you are the best thing since sliced bread was invented.


The trick is in knowing that other people will see things in a different way to you, and not to self-sabotage that. They could well be looking at you and thinking “I wish I’d done that” or “Wow, he’s very talented”.


I’ve been studying creativity for a long time now. I’m really interested in how it works in individuals, in groups (like organisations) and on even bigger levels like society in general.

On all those levels, from the humble individual like me, to the entire country I live in, everything I see makes me more and more convinced that it’s all about smoke and mirrors:

Smoke — confidence in what you do and in putting it out there for the world to see.

Mirrors – a supportive environment, where it’s OK to try new things or come at things from a fresh or unusual angle, and it’s not OK to deliberately hurt or hinder others.

I hope that sounds familiar, because I think it’s a pretty tight metaphor for what we do in BDSM and D/s.

Let’s face it, Doms and subs that give the impression that they know what they are doing are hot. We can all spot fakers a mile away, so I don’t suggest that anyone “fake it ’til they make it”. But a man who picks up a whip, knowing what he’s doing and KNOWING that he knows what he’s doing, is so much hotter than one who picks it up apologising that they’re a bit out-of-practice and there are probably better people in the room to choose. Even if it turns out that second guy can thread the cracker through the eye of a needle at 10 paces.

And is there anything hotter than the sub who’s looking sexy, feeling sexy and projecting that sexiness out to his Dom? The one who knows his moves and takes joy in that dance of submission?

Need some research to prove how sexy confidence is? In our article Keeping the Passion in BDSM Relationships, Esther Perel’s research into what turns partners in healthy relationships on about each other found that the biggest turn-on was:

…when I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when he is in his element, when she’s doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court. Basically, when I look at my partner radiant and confident.

The truth is, we probably don’t need to make excuses. We work hard to be good at what we do, and that hard work shines so much brighter with a coating of confidence.


If you’ve got those two things, I think you can rule the world, or at least your world. I really do. Not just as it relates to creativity, or to BDSM, but with everything.

And the beauty here is that we’ve got control over both these things… the smoke and the mirrors.

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