As young children, we are conditioned to please our parents. Staying out of trouble and, at times, giving parents reason to be proud is what drives pre-adolescents. Then we go to school, and we do the same for teachers. We fill out worksheets, we "behave" in class, we regurgitate memorized information on tests, and we seek validation in the form of grades. On the athletic field it is all about the trophy we "earn" for being the best amongst a given grouping of peers. As adults, many of us find jobs or even careers where the performance appraisal that someone senior to us writes is what decides if we are fortunate enough to keep our job or promote. Heck, last week I listened to a retired football player (Hines Ward for you Steelers Fans) tell the listening audience that he retired because he no longer had anything to prove to his critics. It should come as no surprise that so many of us go through life (or at least a significant portion thereof) with the focus being proving ourselves to others. How many Americans go into extreme debt to buy things they don't really need to impress people they don't even know? We seem to care more about what others think of us than what we believe ourselves. What an unfortunate way to go through life.
Please don't misunderstand me, I do enjoy pleasing others and giving friends, family, and even strangers reason to smile makes me smile. The difference is I choose to look at external validation as a potential result and not the desired effect. It's not about the trophy, it's about the effort. It's not about the applause, it's about the journey. It's not about the grade, it's about what we learn.
Making my parents proud pleases me, but it's not my specific intent. Getting an A in a class is of no importance to me, continued learning is. High marks on my periodic fitness sports (performance appraisals) matters little, self-satisfaction in leading WITH my team matters much. Getting the next promotion would be nice, but it doesn't validate who I am. And if given the choice, I'd wear no ribbons on my uniform at all.
In my professional career, I have adopted a philosophy of picking myself as opposed to waiting for someone else to pick me. I take great pride in doing things that are not my job, I don't like to wait to be tasked to do something, and I very much enjoy creating opportunity. This blog is but one thing I gave myself permission to create. I write thrice monthly and enjoy it a great deal. I don't give much thought as to who reads it and I surely don't expect there to be any comments. External validation is not what drives me to write, to lead, or to simply be. That said, I am not a robot and constructive feedback is not lost on me. Truth is I am fond of the thank-yous I receive from others with whom I continue to enjoy life's journey.
Earlier this month, I saw this unsolicited blogpost from Gaping Void (Represents Hugh MacLeod, an artist and author I admire). Reading it touched me more than I expected and, at first, I was unsettled by the smile it put on my face. As stated earlier, I was the only judge and jury for my work and I need no one else's approval. So why did the appreciation expressed in this singular post and the generous donation to my Shipmates fill me with pride?
It may seem to contradict the message above, but I don't think it does. I am willing to admit that it does feel good when someone else sees merit in the things we do. But as good as it feels, I don't believe that should be the reason we do it. We do it because it matters to us, because it makes us smile, and because we see it as meaningful use of our time. If others see value in it, all the better.