Caution: I’m a bit of a jaded cynic, so if you still believe the world is always sunshine and puppies, you might want to stop reading now to preserve your positive world view. (Once you lose that, there’s no going back…)
I was fortunate to grow up in a supportive environment. My father was always in my corner, teachers generally gave me good grades and good end of semester reviews. I even had a few friends who told me positive things about myself. And a few enemies who grudgingly admitted that maybe I wasn’t all evil.
So, I’m not quite sure how I came to have this distrusting view of the world. But I have it and I’m going to share it. Because that’s what blogs are for, right? Spewing my personal views to the world?
(Note: There’s a bit of eye rolling and smirking going on behind the scenes as I write this post, but I absolutely hate emoticons, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with just my words. But, at the points where you suspect a tongue-in-cheek comment (“a few friends”, “spewing”), please feel free to add the appropriate emotion/expression.)
Getting to the point: None of us knows what is going on in anyone else’s head. Furthermore, we are often mistaken in what we do think is going on.
If I ask someone out and they say yes, all I know about that situation is that I was interested enough to ask them out. Maybe they say yes because they’re bored or hoping for a free meal/sex or want to get the inside scoop from me on “x” or want to make an ex jealous or their mother happy. Who knows?
If someone makes nice with me at work, maybe they’re looking for a new friend or genuinely find me interesting, intelligent, whatever. Or maybe they know I’m involved in a project they want to get on or work in a department they want to work in or in see some other value in having me think positively of them. Maybe their boss told them that if they couldn’t find a way to play nice with me they’re going to be looking at a severely curtailed bonus. I don’t know.
The fact of the matter is, most people are out for themselves. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. But if you expect those people to consistently validate and support you and tell you you’re worthy and wonderful, chances are at some point, you’re going to end up feeling like crap.
And the more people tell you great things about yourself, the more tempting it is to believe them. “You think I’m attractive? Ooooh! Yeah! I’m attractive.” But what happens when that same person who spontaneously told you that you were attractive never compliments you again? Or, worse, says something negative about you? If you buy into their view of you, then you have to ride the highs and lows that they give you.
Same with writing or work accomplishments. If someone reads one of your stories and says, “I love this! Wow!” and you start to rely on their positive view of your stories to affirm you, what do you do when they read your next story and say, “Um, yeah, it was good. Yeah..”
I’m sure someone out there is thinking “how frickin’ ridiculous.” How can someone be a writer and not care what others think of their writing? How can you work a job and not care if people like working with you or like your work?
And to a certain extent they’re right. I have to deliver a product at work that is satisfactory and I have to get along with my co-workers well enough to not get fired. And work is more pleasant if I actually like the work I’m doing and the people I’m working with.
But the difference is that I try not to base my self-worth on what others think of me. So, if I get stuck on a project with someone who just doesn’t like me, I can think “Well, they don’t like me. It doesn’t mean I’m unlikable or a horrible person. It just means I’m not their type of person.”
Does that make sense?
Using this blog as an example…
Since I started the blog, there are folks who have started following it. And some leave great comments and actively engage with what I write, which is awesome. Some, I suspect, followed my blog just so I would follow theirs. (Note to those people – I don’t even follow PCW’s blog. I just bookmark it.) I’m not even sure some of those folks have ever read a post I’ve written (especially since a few have followed me more than once).
So, I can’t judge my blogging ability by number of folks who follow me.
And people have lives. So, maybe one week one person is actively commenting on posts I make, but then they don’t comment ever again or for a month or weeks at a time. It’s likely not personal. Sure, it’s possible they finally reached a point where they hated reading my posts and stopped. It’s just as likely that they started a new job or relationship or found better blogs to read or any number of things that have absolutely nothing to do with me.
If I based my view of my blog on other people’s reactions (which is easy to do thanks to WordPress stats and notifications), I’d drive myself nuts. “Oh, no one liked that post, I must be a miserable failure. I should just give up on this whole blogging thing…”
Maybe they didn’t like it. Maybe no one even read it. Maybe they read it and liked it and didn’t feel inspired to click on the like button.
At the end of the day, I have to find that motivation from inside. It’s great to get positive feedback, but I can’t rely on others’ opinions as my primary fuel. People die, they get caught up in their own dramas, their interests change. Generally, it’s not about me.
And what do you do if people turn on you? If you’re drawing that motivation and self-worth from outside, what happens when you go against the grain? What keeps you moving in the right direction for you when it’s not the direction anyone else wants you to take?
That has to come from inside. That’s how you survive those crushing moments when it feels like everyone is against you. By turning inward and finding that inner faith that no one else can touch. Ever.