Josh Ginter wrote a very inspiring piece called, "Hey, It's Me, The Little Guy" over at The Newsprint. His basic idea is that Twitter has become a great equalizing factor in the world, allowing unprecedented access to the great minds of our time. I agree 100% with every word of this article. I encourage you to read it.
While I do agree with Josh, I wanted to highlight something I've encountered that comes along with this direct access to those more 'successful' 1 than yourself: the feeling of being an outsider. I'll use the example of a podcast to begin explaining what I mean.
I've listened to ATP 2 since episode 1 3, and I genuinely love listening to the show. My favorite thing about ATP, and podcasts in general, is that the hosts are simply a couple of awesome geeks hanging out and talking about what they are passionate about. ATP is about technology, but you can find a niche podcast about almost anything these days.
I consider myself a very opinionated and talkative person, so when I hear John, Marco, and Casey 4 talking about something I love or care about, I have an intense urge to join in the conversation.
But I can't. Not really. Or if I did, I would feel like some random guy interrupting a conversation between actual friends. After the dozens of hours I've hung out with the ATP guys listening to their podcast, I feel as if I know them, that they are my friends, and that if I saw them I would want to rush up and talk to them like we were buddies. But the reality is, they don't know me from a hole in the ground.
I follow a lot of tech writers on Twitter because what they have to say interests me. However, jumping in to add something to one of their conversations on Twitter feels just as awkward as if I did this in real life. I am a stranger to them, so why would they want to hear what I have to say?
I've come to realize that this outcast mentality is really insecurity. You don't feel secure around the people around you. The people you are the most secure around are your best friends or family, who bring about a sense of inclusion. You are accepted as a part of the group. Reflecting on my past, there are many reasons I feel the way I do.
Counting Your Popularity
Looking back on my childhood and my middle school/high school years, these feelings of being an outsider, feeling left out, and not being a part of the crowd are a consistent, dark thread that can be easily traced. It's affected my relationships, friendships, and social life in more ways than I want to think about. But it has gotten weaker the more I grow in confidence in who I am and learn to honestly not care what people think about me. 99% of my insecurities are not real to anyone else — they exist only in my head and are real only to me. That doesn't mean they don't feel real, because our perceptions of reality are our reality.
Back in my day 5, popularity was all unspoken and amorphous. It was judged on who your friends were, how "good looking" you were, or by your actions and accomplishments. But now, there is an exact number every person can equate with their popularity. Not only that, but you can directly compare that number to your peers. Let me explain this a little more.
One day during my student teaching 6, I overheard two 7th graders having a conversation: "Aw, my picture on Instagram only has 67 likes, I may just delete it." I couldn't help but ask why they would delete their picture because of this. The answer shook me.
"All the really popular kids get at least 200 likes on their photos. If I don't get enough likes, I just delete my picture because it's embarrassing." 7
My heart broke. What a terrible reality, albeit virtual, we have created for our kids and for ourselves.
Any teenager with a smartphone can come to conclusions like, "That person is 10 times more popular than me, because they have 10 times the likes (or followers)" or "I'm twice as popular as her." You get the idea. Just thinking about the possibilities makes me sad.
The saddest part is that it made me realize that I sometimes do the same thing. Up to this point in my life, I never really cared about how many Facebook friends I had, how many likes I got on my posts, or how many Twitter followers I had.
Until I Started A Blog
Nothing has stirred up insecurity in me more than having my own blog because it's so easy to get into the popularity game with site analytics and social networks. How many likes did I get? How many visitors came to my site today? How many hits did my post get today?
Then the comparison-demon kicks in, comparing the number of likes, followers, and web traffic of my site to everyone else's site, further destroying my confidence. When I started blogging at Overthought, I began looking at the statistics as my primary method of feedback: a metric of success. I mean, heck, I've never done this before — how am I supposed to know if I'm doing a good job? I could feel really great about an article, knowing that I did my absolute best, but it could still only get a handful of hits.
My self-confidence was the one taking all the hits my post didn't get. My old insecurities rose their ugly head, biting with a venomous bite and lingering like a poison in my mind. Numerous times I've thought about giving up out of self-loathing or fear. Heck, I've even shuttered the site for weeks at a time.
For some reason, the insecurity was heightened because it was about my creation, not just myself, as it was in grade school. It was about my baby, the posts I worked really hard on. And if my creation got rejected or neglected, I somehow felt rejected on a deeper level because it was so difficult to push through my fear and publish it.
I know that I can't measure success by how many followers, friends, or likes I receive for the creative work I put out into the world. But knowing it in your head and believing it in your heart are two very different things.
Some creatives derive comfort and solace through meditation, a higher power, or mental exercise. Many will accept their mental torment as the reality of being an artist, and embrace it as part of the creative process, hence the "tortured artist" cliché. The vast majority of people who desire to create will give up on their craft altogether, becoming content with simply consuming and appreciating the work of others 8.
The Creative Creed
In order to combat the oppressive insecurity, I was inspired to write down a few statements that, starting now, I will aspire to live and create by. I see them as a new measuring stick for myself besides numbers and statistics. It is a creed of sorts. Call it whatever you want to, it doesn't matter. I'm calling it the Creative Creed.
It is in no way comprehensive, and I will probably add more to it as I go. I wanted to open source it to you guys in the hopes that it will benefit you in some small way.
Here is what I came up with:
"From here on out, I am choosing to reject the idea that pain, suffering, and insecurity always have to be a part of my creative process. I choose to create from a place of peace, letting my passions and interests drive my writing instead of my pain. I'm not saying I will be ignorant of my own pain, but I will not let the pain of creating sit in the driver's seat of my creative process.
I will learn to separate my creation from myself, learning to not take it personally if it fails, by any form of measurement. I will outlast these feelings of self-doubt until they go away, and I will actively work to prevent their existence, no matter how long it takes.
I will not compare my creation to that of anyone else, because I can create something no one else can. Some are ahead of me, some behind, for we are all travelers on different legs of the same journey. I will learn to celebrate those ahead of me, encouraging them to keep going, and help those that are behind me, encouraging them to stay strong. The success of others does not inherently label failure upon myself, unless I let it. The popularity of another does not imbue unpopularity upon me.
I will seek feedback about my creations with an open mind, not taking any corrections or suggestions personally. I will find others who are creating in the same field and build relationships with them, because I can't succeed alone. I will find truth in the negative feedback I receive, learning to extract the truth from even the harshest words, and use it to get better. I will create something better today than I did yesterday, seeking to only best myself."
These words have helped me tremendously by giving me something to aim for besides Pageviews, RSS subscribers, and Twitter followers. It has helped me deal with the nagging insecurities and fears I have when sitting down and writing.
If you have given up on your craft, or have felt discouraged lately, to you I say:
Life is not a popularity contest. Stop comparing yourself to others and feeling like the outsider. Your voice is important. You have the ability to create something no one else does. The world is incomplete without your voice. Don't let your fear and insecurity keep you from creating, for our sake as much as yours
- However you define 'success'. ↩
- The Accidental Tech Podcast. A great show if you're into development, technology, or other nerdy miscellany. You should listen to it if you already haven't. ↩
- They are now on episode 58. ↩
- The hosts of ATP. ↩
- I graduated high school in 2006, so not that long ago. ↩
- Basically, an unpaid semester of teaching seen as an internship. I just finished my Masters in Education in December 2013 for Middle/High School English Education, and part of that degree is one semester student teaching. ↩
- I've asked other middle and high school students, and the "popular" number varies based on the size of the school. At a large high school, the popular kids might get 1000+ likes per post. ↩
- There is nothing wrong with consuming the excellent work of others, unless you have given up on your own ability to create. I've noticed that people who give up on their craft are much more sad than those who face the challenges and difficulties of creating. ↩