To The Person Who Wants to Give Up Because Their Work Is Undervalued

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? 

If you want to process this with someone, you know I’m here. You can reach out to me anytime.

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.

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Why You Should Stop Helping People

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.

The Approach

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.

The Icing 

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.

Actually, You Aren’t Enough

You Are Enough.

Those three words frustrate me. I don’t always believe in them. For some of us, the goal of perfection has been a burden for quite some time. Some of us jokingly say things like I’m just a perfectionist or I just like to do it right the first time.

Okay. I actually say those things all the time. But, when I fail, I kick myself and sulk. I restart the self-loathing process:

Step 1: Doubt my skills.

Step 2: Envy others who do what I do – seemingly better.

Step 3: Repeat.

Thanks to Twitter, I find myself scrolling through update after update from others who appear to be the champions and celebrities of Student Affairs. Heck, maybe some feel the same way when they peruse my statuses. My self-worth gets tied up into everything I haven’t done, and into every year of experience I don’t have in my field.

I end up not feeling like enough. As if there’s a course on adding more to my personality and my character. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be someone else, but feeling like I don’t measure up is unsettling. 

I tell all this to my support system. They remind me of my strengths, they challenge me to think about my accomplishments, and they push back on my negative thought patterns.

My hope is that each of us has had at least one moment when someone affirmed that what we do/who we are is a good fit for life, let alone our jobs. We haven’t all written an e-book, taught a course, researched/discovered a theory, or presented on a national scale. Do we have to?

When it comes down to it, it might be worth something to ask: “What do I actually want to do” rather than “What should I be doing because x.  (x can equal: “it sounds good” ; “others have done it”; “it will get me to the next step”)” I say all this and yet I struggle with feeling like less on some days. It’s part negative thoughts, part my own lived history, and part misguided perspectives on what matters.

On good days, I know I am enough. I feel great doing what I do best: connecting, motivating, and inspiring others. There’s a pep in my step and tiny blue cartoon birds sit on my shoulder. I like the person I see in the mirror and I know I am enough. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m doing what I enjoy without comparing myself others, or if it’s because people-time gives me an endorphin rush, but I like myself in those moments.

I feel like enough when a student opens up to me and confides in me after being reserved for several months. It happens when a co-worker invites me over for dinner. I’m reassured I am enough when I am able to contribute in important meetings, help develop curriculum, successfully run a staff selection, or inspire someone to accept just a little bit about themselves because they listened to my story.

We have done more and are more than we’ll ever know. It’s the grandiose acts, the prolific writings, the innovative ideas generated, and the chart topping accomplishments. It’s the small things and it’s that which exist in the in-between that matters as well. We get to decide what and who defines us.

We get to live a better story for ourselves and others. And on the good days, because there are good days, we get to note that we are enough. Sometimes self-acceptance only exist in a few hiccups of hope at a time.

My hope is that we take hold to those moments, gather them, and tuck them away. Eventually, they will override all the lies we’ve been told about being less than. Sometimes, hiccups will have to do. I’m going to reflect more on being okay with the enough that I am.

What’s your story?


 

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