Step 1: Start with where you want to be at the end of this decision.
Will this make you healthier? Smarter?
Will you end up in the relationship you’ve been wanting for so long?
Will it bring you closer to God?
Will this help you set a boundary you’ve been needing ever since your best friend told you, “You really seem down every time you get off the phone with them.”
Will this make your heart sing? Will it help you to confront those bones in your closet?
Imagine what the end could look like. Sink into it. Write about it. Put yourself there.
Do you like what you see? Is it worth moving towards? Is it worth suffering for – long nights, sacrifice, awkwardness, loss?
If it’s worth it, move to the next step.
Step 2: Consider the terrible things. All of them.
What if this decision leads to a complete flop? What if you receive negative feedback – like, the darkest parts of Yelp bad?
What if they say no? What if there’s no response?
What if you gain the weight back two weeks later?
What if you lose all your funding? Friends? Comfort?
Again, imagine what this could look like. Failure is a real possibility. So is heartache. So is pain. So is looking like a complete fool.
What do you see? Are you able to bounce back from it?
Do you need help healing from how it all turned out? Maybe it’s not that bad? Maybe it is.
If it’s too dangerous or risky or damaging, re-consider. Phone a friend. Scale back.
If it’s something you can handle, move to the next step.
My own thoughts can often be catastrophic and pessimistic. Sometimes, they come so fast, I don’t even notice they’re just thoughts. They appear to be truths. I find myself stuck and believing that nothing will work out and that everything will be overwhelming and ugly and terrible. In my best moments, I’m able to pull back and look at the facts.
Oh, and that’s the next step.
Step 3: Check the facts.
How much more do you actually need in order to make this thing happen?
How much do they really matter (the ones you might lose)?
What are the benefits of this?
Are you the first person ever to attempt to do this?
You’re probably not. And you’re definitely not the first person to be afraid of doing a thing. Doesn’t make it any less scary, does it?
Maybe it does.
I hope you can find some reassurance in knowing that it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay for your hands to shake, your voice to crack, your eyes to water.
Final Step: Press send.
Do the thing. Take the first step. Make the move. Risk appearing to be bold, out of your league, bigger than you really are, braver than all who came before you.
Dare to do something for yourself. Dare to do something for someone else.
Dare to start before you’re ready.
Some folks never really are. Even the person you’ve been comparing yourself to this entire time.
So, no one is showing up. The retweets aren’t coming. Your inbox is empty. The callback never came. No one seems to notice what you’re sharing with the world. You feel like you’re wasting your time.
Only a few people have seen your work and said: “Well done.” Others were confused or uninterested.
You seek more validation, but you’re seemingly insatiable. You await the moment when all that you do is considered credible.
What do your friends say? What do your co-workers say? What do your toughest critics say?
Somehow, what you believe about yourself doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t hold much weight.
This process leaves you feeling isolated. Some of this is a result of you pushing away those who actually matter. Some of this is the sadness that comes with you concluding that you don’t measure up.
Let’s be clear about this. You’ve been working your absolute hardest for a long time. You’ve cried from the exhaustion.
There are stacks of dusty rough drafts no one is allowed to see. Some ideas are tucked away because they’re too outrageous, outlandish, impractical.
“This won’t work. And it if does, no one will like it.” Bitterness and hopelessness taken up residence. They appear to be permanent tenants.
You’re giving up.
You think back to that time someone told you that your work sucked. Maybe they laughed at you. Maybe they minimized everything you brought forth. Maybe they promised they’d show up, but they didn’t. It was just an audience of one: Disappointment.
Disappointment has been hovering over every single one of your creations. It muddies things. It renders you incapable of seeing all those other good and needed parts of you.
Because you are needed. Your work is needed. What you have to give is what you have to give. No one can take that away from you.
Alas, the most formidable threat to your work, the most challenging adversary to all that you will ever do or create, is you. Every time you pull back and keep your gifts, skills, talents, products, projects, music, cuisine, teaching, love, dancing, writing, anything from the the world, someone loses.
This is not to say that everything you do is ground-breaking or awe-inspiring. It is to say that the thing which you’ve put a lot into matters.
You have no idea of who is better off because you’re here.And, you don’t get to say all of what your positive impact has been on others.
You’d surely miss something.
You don’t truly get to say what your work can and can’t do, because you will never be able to read the heart and mind of everyone whose path you’ve crossed.
While you’re permitted to give up, quit, run away, hide, or shrink someone misses out on their blessing.
Every time you hide your light, someone loses.
All of your fears, feelings, and reluctance is valid because hurt is real and harm is sometimes everlasting. Guilt nor shame have any place here.
This is simply a reminder: what you have to give matters so much.
I say all this with grace and love and openness, knowing that everyone doesn’t have the access and privilege and space to do all they wish to do. This is about all that you can give right where you are right now. Whether it be glamorous, or unassuming. Require funding or none at all.
I say this from the deepest parts of me because I too have wanted to give up so many times (and have) because I didn’t get the feedback I wanted. I didn’t get the response I thought I needed. I created and created and no one came. There have been times when I’ve set things up and no one showed up.
I can easily call back those feelings. At times, I still feel afraid of launching something new, sharing something I care about, or showing others my work. I’ve faced rejection countless times.
What’s often hurt most is feeling misunderstood and convincing myself that what I do isn’t actually useful to anyone. But, today, I’m sure that my values have been misplaced when it comes to this. My assumptions have been inaccurate.
I’m not here to share my light in order to receive validation. I’m not here to be the biggest change this world has ever seen. I wasn’t purposed to create just so others can show up and say: “Wow, that was just what I needed.”
To be honest, I don’t fully know why I’m here. But, what I do know is that there’s power in continuing to create, show up, and put out the best work that I can. Consistency got me to today. Consistency had me up at night writing this message to you. Consistency is what has made me a better husband, friend, writer, performer, supervisor, colleague, practitioner, speaker, Christian, human.
Not perfection. I’m wholly imperfect. Not fame. It’s fleeting.
Consistency: showing up again and again because all of this means something to someone, and it’s all so much bigger than me, and so much bigger than you.
It’s worth it because at least one person will come across what I’ve made, what I’ve let flow through me, and will benefit from it. All that you’ve been given, all that you’ve worked for, and all that you have, isn’t just for you.
If you’ve been hiding the parts of you that could potentially be a gift to someone else, I encourage to set aside a few minutes and consider the following prompts:
What if my work – though rough, unfinished, incomplete – could help someone else?
What if all the bad that was said about what I create was only part of the story? What if there’s some good they missed?
What if I’m keeping a blessing/gift/invitation from someone else who needs it by holding back what I have to give?
Am I waiting too long for this thing to be perfect?
What permission do I need to just push this out and see where it lands, fail, and try again?
I also encourage you to reach out to someone who does the work you do or makes the thing you make or is on the path you’re on. See what they have to say. Challenge yourself to open your heart a little and share something real. Then, actually listen.
This is what was on my heart today. I’m glad I didn’t hide it.
I make to-do list and itineraries when I’m on vacation. I have the magical ability to turn something fun into a character building activity. I ask for more responsibility even when my plate is full.
Yes, it’s as frustrating as it sounds – for anyone involved.
Here are some potential reasons I’m like this:
I don’t want to miss out on anything.
I don’t want to waste this energy I have.
The story I often tell myself is that my day doesn’t count unless I get a lot done.
But, if I’m being real about it, the deeper story I tell myself is that my life only counts if I get a lot done. Somewhere along the way, I internalized this idea that my output is directly tied to my worth. I’m only deserving of love and appreciation if I’ve earned it. It’s not enough for me to just be.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks like this.
Still, it’s so much pressure and it’s not at all realistic. We don’t have unlimited energy. Our bodies need rest.
We live in a time where we have the resources to do more with less. We see others accomplishing great things and and we tell ourselves:“You and (insert name of anyone you compare yourself to) have the same 24 hours in a day. Why aren’t you doing more with your life!?!”
What if I just want to be me today? What if I’m tired and exhausted from being in this body that carries hurt, joy, excitement, secrets, fears, trauma, history?
We don’t give ourselves enough credit for enduring all that living requires. It takes so much to simply exist. If we accounted for all the times in a day where we had to ignore something, let go of something, forgive something, tolerate something, we’d have a more accurate picture of what life really is at times: really freaking difficult.
So, I’m thinking that it’s okay if you and I don’t crush it today. It’s okay if we just arrive to where we’re headed.
I’m not going to lie, the achiever in me is like: “Dude, you’re setting the bar low.”
But, if the bar is always high, we won’t have the energy when we’re called to be 100% for the opportunities that truly matter to us.
Everything can’t be important. Some things need to wait.
Taking care of yourself can’t wait.
Share Your Truth+ Comment Below
What’s something that came up for you while reading today’s message?
According to Google, the definition of purpose is: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”
So, when someone asks us: “Hey, uhhh, what’s your purpose in life?” They’re asking us why we exist?
When I was a child, I had a close family member who’d repeatedly confront me with similar questions but from a place of anger and intimidation. They’d ask 9-year-old me: “Why are you even here? What do you do around here? Nothing. You do nothing!” They knew how to break me down. I felt like I was always making mistakes and feeling I wasn’t good enough. I internalized those thoughts, and part of me is still struggling to come up with a good response.
But I’m healing.
And, I’ve come a long long way. I bet you have too.
Maybe you’ve had some bullies in your life. Maybe someone has made you feel like less without even meaning to, but you still question your impact, your meaning, your reason for being. Am I doing enough?
Maybe you saw a groundbreaking TED talk, or you heard the news about an amazing child prodigy, or your friend told you about someone who has this really cool start-up. What am I even doing with my life?
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself scrolling on social media late at a night and feeling like everyone but you is living their best lives.
Or maybe you go deeper with it and ask yourself: “Is there even a reason for me to be here? Do I even have a purpose? And if I don’t, what’s that mean about my existence.”
A lot of us end up here. You’re not alone.
We spiral and find ourselves viewing our lives as meaningless and worthless because we aren’t doing what others are doing. We internally berate ourselves for not accomplishing what we could be accomplishing based on our qualifications, ability, privilege, network, or training.
We convince ourselves that we don’t measure up.
We tell ourselves that we’ll matter more when we get the job, the spouse, the money, the degree, the _____.
Sadly, our self-worth can often be completely tied up in everything we don’t have and everything we feel like we’re not.
We can find ourselves in the happiest experiences of our lives (like truly thriving), only to be swept under the waves of self-doubt and misery moments later, when we realize we don’t have ourselves all figured out yet. Or when we hastily push ahead and set another goal to accomplish. Or when we realize that some parts of us are still broken.
But, here’s the truth of it: all of us have brokenness. All of us have doubt. All of us have shame. And still, our lives have meaning.
Each of us has the capacity to add something to the communities we live in, the churches we’re a part of, the families we care for, the schools we attend, and the strangers we meet. We can make all those places a little better. Often we’re doing this by simply showing up and being ourselves – our clumsy, unsure, brilliant, zestful, intelligent selves.
Yes, I’m still talking about you and me.
I think we get to break up the concept of purpose into smaller and more realistic pieces. Instead of asking: “Why am I here?” ask yourself about what you enjoy, what breaks your heart, who has thanked you recently about something you did for them, what you’re good at – like naturally good at, or what you work hard at even though you don’t get paid for it.
Ask yourself about what you’ve made it through. Ask yourself about how resilient you’ve been. Ask yourself about the things no one can ever take from you.
What excites you – or what used to? What do you care about – even if others don’t find it the least bit interesting.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about these questions, and here’s what I came up with.
Pieces of my purpose: To be a kind, good, and caring husband. To be a supportive older brother and supportive to others in my family. To be a solid and dependable friend. It breaks my heart to know that others are struggling in silence with mental illness. I find myself thinking of ways to help others take better care of themselves – this keeps me up at night. I also find myself thinking of ways to create community with other black men around issues of health and wellness, because so many of us are dying and suffering from preventable issues. I enjoy doing improv, writing, connecting with people, dancing, and bringing people together. If I wasn’t afraid, I would go all in on my dreams – I’m getting closer. Even at my lowest points, my worst moments, my biggest failures, I am still loved. I wholeheartedly believe part of my reason for being on this earth is to share God’s light with others through my work. I’ve often struggled to communicate this, because I feel like saying I’m a Christian and I love doing the work of the Lord turns others off, but it’s who I am. So here it is: I love Jesus. And if you don’t, I’m cool with that, and I still love you and celebrate you and think you get to have the big wondrous life you want to live. I find that leading and living from my heart makes all the different. It’s about love for me. That’s the big picture. Lastly, I believe I’ve had a positive impact on the lives of many just by showing up and being kind.
And, there’s so much more to me.
There’s so much more to you.
If you’re struggling to get unstuck from feeling like you have to have your entire life figured out today, I encourage you to pause, take a deep breath, and find some time to reflect on the topic of purpose in a different way. Remember to break it up.
Here are some questions to ask yourself this week, as you dig into this topic a little more.
I don’t suggest trying to respond to every one, it’s not a test. See which question tugs at you the most, kicks up stuff for you the most, or just feels most salient for you right now.
What issue or idea has been keeping me up at night?
What’s been breaking my heart?
What am I already doing that has a positive impact on the lives of others – if only a little?
What have my friends, family, or strangers thanked me for lately?
What would I create, add to, join, or show up for if I had the resources and wasn’t afraid?
What have I been hesitant to tell others about who I am and what I believe?
Oh, and I just gotta say this. Sometimes, we need to put down the journal, and get out, do something, and shake things up. I’ve personally found that taking action is a healthy way to move through the anxiety of trying to figure out ALL THE THINGS. This means signing up to volunteer service, joining a book club, attending a free lecture at a nearby college campus, or signing up for a workshop gets you out of your comfort zone. Thinking and reflection are necessary, and so is getting lost in experiences, meeting people you’ve never met, and doing things you never thought you could do.
Perhaps you won’t find the entire meaning for your life by doing this (you don’t need to), but you will learn something about yourself. You will take memories with you, and you will hopefully feel a little more alive.
You do not have to know your purpose in life to have meaning on this earth.
You don’t even have to be living on purpose to be belong here.
You already belong, and you’re already enough just because of the fact that you’re living and breathing. Those are the prerequisites. Live. Breathe.
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“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” —Maggie Kuhn
Your words hold power. They do. Think about how impactful words told to you as a child were. Consider the stinging insults from the playground bully. Or, the advice from the family member who made you feel invincible.
Words hold power. Your words hold power.
And yet, how often are we called to use our words before we feel ready? How often are we called to speak up when no one else seems to care? Our words still matter. They matter when we stutter. They matter when we overthink them before saying anything.
At times, unspoken words can have the greatest impact. They can do the most violence.
Your words matter.
You might be in a situation right now where you’re doubting yourself. Imposter syndrome has crept back in.
You’re being asked to present, teach, or proclaim, and you’re thinking: “They have the wrong person. I’m not ready for this. I’m not right for this.” Let me tell you something: you were called to the table for a reason. You are right for this. Someone saw brilliance, answers, and better questions in you.
It’s your time to say what needs to be said. Offer up your opinions. Challenge the status quo. Say what only you can say: your truth. Don’t settle.
I know, it’s scary to be impeccable with our words. It can be frightening to tell others what we’re really thinking. What if we give them something to use against us in the future?
What if you say something that could help shift someone else’s story? What if your words are the difference between joy and pain for the person you didn’t even know was listening? What if your words could liberate?
They can. They have. They will.
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Huge shoutout to the folks at WordPress.com for putting my stats together from the year. In short, A LOT of awesome folks (like you) took time to visit The SA Pro Next Doorand read my articles. I am overwhelmed with joy about this. I can’t wait to share more honest and vulnerable posts with you. Next steps: teaching others how to blog and publish online.
2016, hello from the other side…it’s gonna be one heck of a ride.
Here’s an excerpt:
A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
It was bad. I found myself looking at my laptop screen early one September morning. You could call it writers block, but I call it insincerity. All I wanted to do was write another popular article that’d get tons of views on LinkedIn. A little voice in my head told me that my fans expected this. Somewhere else on the internet (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter…) my other fans were overwhelmed with anticipation for my next upload of a motivational quote. I was sick. Instead of creating content for the sake of helping others, my relationship with social media had become an unhealthy addiction and habit.
Some of you know the feeling you get when your phone is about to die. Sure, there are those who have people depending on them, and can’t afford to miss an emergency phone call (children, sick relatives, etc.). But, there are those like me who need their phones on at all times so they don’t miss out on the next big thing. I found myself drowning in attempts to keep up with trending topics. I became the person that would walk into the conference room and ask, “Did you hear about this (insert celebrity or world news update here)?” Being a gatekeeper of breaking news was a badge I wore proudly, but what did it really count for? Did it actually help anyone to know that Taylor Swift was being sued for allegedly stealing someone else’s lyrics? Would I be able to connect better with my students because I’d practiced the whip nae nae dance? Yes and no. Social media engagement has its share of benefits. It is great for networking, information for idle banter, publishing honest and vulnerable posts like this, and it helps me to stay connected to the students I work with. But, too much of anything is a bad thing. We know this.
So, when I was staring at my laptop screen – disappointed and sulking – I knew something had to give. I was trying to force out words because I craved the gratification that came along with people reading my words and being touched by them. That’s not what matters. If I’m always looking for a trophy in my efforts to serve others, eventually I’ll end up isolated and unsatisfied. People will begin to see through my disingenuous efforts. I will do them a disservice. My fear of missing out will inevitably render me lying on the floor by the nearest outlet while my phone charges, and I feebly scroll up and down a trending topics page. I don’t want to be that person. I was that person. I still kind of am that person.
Being off social media for a month taught me a few things that I want to hold onto and share with you. If I can continue the good habits I picked up during my break, I think I’ll be better for it. Maybe you will too.
I got back to reading books – the ones with binding, a spine, and actual pages. I forgot how much fun it was to finish a novel and lose myself in another world for a few days. There’s something to say about going beyond a 140-character story, and immersing yourself in an author’s mind. During my hiatus, I read peer reviewed research findings in Higher Ed, learned more about Student Development Theory, and was completely frustrated after finishing The Girl on the Train (but you should read it because everyone else has and it’s like Gone Girl).
The people who are important to me mattered again. I spent more time with my wife, Tynesha, and found it easier to be present in conversations with anyone I was speaking to. I was less concerned about how many likes the photo I posted minutes ago was getting …because there was no post.
I learned that others are struggling too. I told someone that I was doing a social media cleanse and they replied: “Oh, I could never do that.” I assured them that I wasn’t giving up all my possessions and traveling the land for a few years. It was just a way to be less distracted and more present with the life in front of me. That didn’t click for them. They reiterated that they just couldn’t put down their phone. It was a sad moment for the both of us.
You’re going to miss out on something. Attempting to be informed about every single topic from who Blake Shelton is in love with to why Quentin Tarantino is under fire for attending an anti-police brutality protest is fun for a while. But, it’s not a sustainable practice and I don’t get paid for it. My actual job is to positively impact the lives of college students and support/challenge them as they develop into responsible adults. When you fear missing out, you end up missing out on yourself and the things that matter.
I don’t have any fans. I’m not a celebrity. I’m glad to know that a few people in the world enjoy reading my writing, but they don’t lose sleep when I fail to post something. Life goes on. Rather than cranking out content to remain relevant, this break has taught me the importance of one. If I can inspire and motivate one person to do better, my job is done. Sure, if only one person likes this article and three people view it, it will sting. You know what outweighs that sting? Knowing that I acted with good intentions to help make this world a little better. That’s got to count for something. I want it to count more as I grow and mature.
So that’s it. It was a break and not a break up. We needed space, but I’m slowly getting back to tweeting, liking, and posting. This time it feels better. I feel like I can be more of myself in this relationship. I don’t feel so used or so lost. I have more of an identity. I love you, social media, but if we’re going to be together, I need to be a healthy version of myself.
I have been a terrible example of humility in my public and private life. Much of what I’ve done has been to receive credit. It is scary as heck to admit that, especially since I’m so concerned about what others think about me. But, I want those who are influenced by me to know who I really am: flawed and human. I want anyone struggling with being humble to read this and realize that they are not alone. Kanye, if you’re reading this, hello.
I used to think that people who constantly preached about staying humble did it to be condescending or mystical. Whatever their motives were (probably to help me be a better person) I didn’t want to hear it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love being in the spotlight. It’s who I’ve always been. But, what happens when the spotlight goes to my head?
I have had seasoned folks say things about my millennial generation.They talk about how we are painfully entitled, but they complain about how we want recognition for building a webpage, getting 2,000 social media followers, or finishing the sandwich we ordered. There is some truth to that, but I’m hit hardest when they say: “It’s not all about you.” Great. Just great. What the heck does that mean? I rarely ask for an explanation. I just feel offended and want to walk away. But, I respect my elders, so I listen. They go on to tell me that other people need attention too, or that other issues are bigger than me. I begin to understand and I get over myself a bit more each time. Then they go on to tell me about how frustrated they are with my generation and all the selfies we take. The conversation becomes about social media and usually ends there. I get that. I could totally take less selfies and spend less time on social media, but humility goes deeper than that. It requires me to ask myself: how does focusing less on myself benefit others? I have spent hours helping any community I’ve lived in since I was a kid. We, the helpers, have dedicated much of our lives to help others. Why are we required to be humble if we are doing selfless work for others? Here’s the thing: anytime we want recognition for the things we have done, have our egos stroked, or receive validation from others, we are not being completely selfless. Okay, I’m getting a little too philosophical. Let me get to what I hope you take from all this.
The topic of humility has been on my mind for a long time. Recently, it occurred to me that there were aspects of humility I have not explored. I realized that it went beyond shying away when a person gives you praise. It is more noble than saying, “My team is who we should really thank for that.” I do better with lists, so…
Here Are ThreeThings I Now Understand About Humility
1. When people say: “It’s not all about you”, it is NOT a diss. It is time to stop feeling offended every time I hear this. This phrase is just a reminder that while I can receive recognition for each good deed I do, there are others doing good things at the same time. It all counts. I have yet to find anyone that likes the person on the team that seeks to absorb all the attention. It gets us off track and isolates said attention seeker. When one wins, we all do. It’s not all about you also means that you are not the only one suffering at any given moment. (Though your suffering shouldn’t be diminished and you deserve care and support). Someone is always going through a more devastating situation. When I can, I need to be mindful enough to shorten my sulking hour, and get back to supporting those who need me.
Next steps: Learn to be okay when others do not acknowledge the work you do, and take the initiative to collaborate and be of service to others. But do not neglect yourself. If you need help, ask for it. You can’t always help. Others can pitch in too.
2. Focus less on looking good and more on doing good for others. At one point, I sought advice from at least three people before I posted status update or Instagram photo. Okay, that is sad. While it is important to get approval on things, especially when we represent our organizations, companies, families, and selves at any moment, we can over do it. If your intentions are good and you are looking to improve the lives of others, take some of the focus off how polished you and your project will look, and put more effort into what you’re actually doing. The people you are serving are more concerned with what they’re receiving than you and your image. I recently started writing positive and uplifting letters to anyone who wants one at my institution. I put up a Google Form so people can request a kind note from me or someone on my letter writing team. One day I noticed that some of my teammates were signing each note: “from someone who cares.” I asked them why they didn’t write their name. I had been signing every letter with my first name so I could get credit for sending it. I sat with this for a few days, and realized that my ego had been getting the best of me in other areas of my life. I had such a thirst for validation that I was a loving and amazing person, that I made sure everyone knew all the cool things I was doing. I am enough without doing a thing. So, why do I try so hard?
Next steps: Get better at loving and taking care of you. Look at what you do and ask: “Am I pleased with this?” If the answer is no, switch it up, and figure out what you’d like to thank yourself for later. I’m terrible at this one. So if you are too, know you’re not alone. It feels good in the moments when I do well at loving me.
3. Invite others to join you without even trying. Whenever I try to prove myself to the world, I get ignored or make a fool of myself. It is usually when I have the courage to be vulnerable and honest with others, that people are drawn to me and what I’m doing. I end up not even noticing that people are drawn to my honesty, and I fully enjoy the conversations I have with others about how their experiences relate to my story. I’ve been trying to be a rockstar at life all this time, and all anyone wants to interact with is the real version of me. This might be true for you. I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. If it is you, I challenge you to stop trying so hard to be the Big Shot that has tons of fans. Recognition won’t keep you warm night after night. It is not your best friend. It’s a reminder of what someone thinks about you. Humility makes that recognition so much sweeter when it finally arrives, because you’ve been appreciating yourself all along, and putting your work out there with better intentions. People are either going to love you, hate you, dismiss you, or never hear about you. If we continue to base our self value on what others care about rather than commit ourselves to helping others, we are going to be miserable, alone, and the world won’t get the special flavor we bring to it. And, I know you bring something special to our world.
Next steps: Give humility a try. Be honest with others about who you are and what you bring. Put yourself out there a little – the real you – and see what happens. If people shoot you down, take time to heal, work on finding like minded people, and repeat.
Obligatory concluding sentence: there isn’t one. That would be people pleasing.
I have a confession to make: I have an incessant need for others to tell me that my life’s work has been worth something.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll see positive tweets and updates. I work in Higher Education because I want to motivate and inspire college students to live awesome lives. I randomly send motivational and inspiring postcards to friends, family, and acquaintances to brighten their day. So what’s the problem? What could I possibly have to gripe about if my intentions are good? For one, it’s been increasingly difficult for a realistic optimist like me in a world that appears to thrive on bad news, gossip, and scandal. I struggle to find my place. Some of this struggle is self-induced.
The Real Issue
I’ve been focused on the responses, likes, and favorites I don’t receive when I put something positive out into the universe. It sounds ridiculous when I write it down, but at the end of the day I want to know my work has added value to other’s lives. On bad days, I equate the number of people I’ve helped to my level of self-worth. I can put in a ton of effort and still feel defeated when:
a) A person denies my help
b) I receive negative criticism or cynicism about something positive I’ve said, written or done
c) Someone accepts the help, but continues to exhibit destructive habits and behaviors
Consequently, I tell myself that I should just stop helping people. Surely, I could be doing something else with my life where I could see instant results, make more money, gain worldwide notoriety, and feel like what I do means something. But now, I’m done being concerned with the what else. I don’t know what that other thing would be, and on my best days I know that chasing happiness and fame is a fruitless venture.I wouldn’t enjoy the acclaim because I’d never feel fulfilled. I won’t ever feel like what I do means something, unless I believe it in myself. It starts with me.
I love working with others and seeing them actualize their goals. I silently celebrate when I see my students grow and become more self-aware. I’m just a small step on their long journey, but it means something even if they don’t tell me it does. It means something even when I don’t witness their development, and when I find out how I’ve touched their lives. Moving forward, I don’t need the satisfaction of knowing my work has done something monumental. I need to know where I can be helpful and who I can help.
We shouldn’t stop helping people. What we can do is rethink our approach. We can make sure we’re not letting doubt and irrational needs get in our way of doing good. If you’re out there doing good and with good intentions, stop explaining yourself. I’m tired of explaining why I help others, smile at people, or greet strangers when I walk in a room. Deep down, I know that I feel loved and welcomed when others do this for me. I don’t need to explain how any given action might go a long way. What I want to start saying is: “I don’t always know why I do it, but I know that I care. Try it for yourself. Help someone and don’t expect anything. Let your curiosity run wild and see where it gets you.” The other challenging task is telling myself that I don’t always need to justify my actions.
Don’t think yourself out of doing good. For every hour I sit doubting that I’m making an impact, I could be spending time pouring into the lives of others. Doubt stalls us. The only feedback I want is if I’m doing more harm than good. Tell me if I’m accidentally teaching people to be dependent. Gently help me notice if I’m talking more than I’m listening. Other than that, no response is needed if someone’s life is improving. I appreciate a thank you or a kind follow up, but I’m working towards not craving the feedback. Validation and affirmation aren’t life support, they’re the icing on the cake.
I’m getting closer to fully accepting and being who I am: a person who enjoys being at your service. I’m betting you’re getting closer too.
This might seem like post about me, but I don’t think we’re all that different. I’m betting you’ll see yourself in at least one thing written below.
1. You don’t have the relationships you want with others. I’m so guilty of this one. I think it’s because I set high expectations for others. I want them to love me instantly and tell me all about their lives. I want them to be open, extroverted, forthcoming, interesting, patient, (geesh, the list is too long and too ridiculous to continue writing). This is unrealistic and relationship building takes time. It’s hard for me to accept this, but I’m working on it every darn day.
Note: Food is better when time and effort are put into it, and the fake stuff is left out of it. Relationships with friends, colleagues, students, and family aren’t any different. I might write this on the back of my hand just to remind myself.
2. You think you should be today, what you’re not even ready to be yet. I hate this one. I want it all now. I want the doctorate, the followers, the fans, the expensive clothes, the big paychecks, and the recognition in my field. But all any of that means is that I need to work on accepting who I am today, and realizing that I am enough. Fans, books, presentation/keynote invites don’t inform that – I do.
3. You produce content just to stay relevant and known. I’ve been scheduling out positive social media updates to inspire others. My intentions are good because I seek to positively inspire others. The other – more embarrassing – reason is because I think others will forget me if I don’t let them know I’m here …like every couple of hours. That’s ridiculous. You’re here, I’m here, and we’re all busy living. Take time for yourself and treat yourself. Remind yourself of what it all really means. Remind yourself that you mean something even if no one is calling you, texting you, or inviting you anywhere. They haven’t necessarily forgotten, and it’s not always because they don’t like you. They just have their own lives to live, journeys to experience, and challenges to face. Dig into that loneliness and figure out why it feels so bad. Yes, yes, I’m going to take my own advice. It’s a struggle.
4. You and your worrying are getting in your way. I’m afraid of being wrong and of being alone. 10 points for you if you’ve figured this out by now. I don’t want the pain, guilt, and shame that potentially come with letting others down or making a fool of myself. So, I overcompensate by being super duper on top of things at work, at home, and in my friend groups. It’s causing so much stress in my 27 year old body. Gah, the aches!!! On top of that, worrying is exhausting. I imagine all the brain power and happiness I’d have if I just worried for ONLY one hour a day (which my counselor recently suggested), and spent the rest of time floating from one thing to the next, with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. Pain is going to come, but I don’t have to spend every moment anticipating it. Neither do you.
5. You don’t know what you really want from life. I want real friends, a happy and fulfilling marriage (as of 7-16-2015), a good savings account, and to have an impact on others. The problem is that I think my wants aren’t that great. So what if I don’t want what you want or what person x wants. So what if my wants aren’t noble, humble, good enough, or whatever. What happens when I embrace who I am (even the yucky stuff)? What do YOU really want from life? Does the answer bother you?
Take what you want, and throw away the rest. Share this with someone if you think they can use it.