I don't get out much. Maybe a bit reclusive. My "public appearances" are infrequent. Everyone knows who I am, but few people actually know me. Twice weekly, I instruct a early morning spin class. I brief my company's board of directors monthly. I run a handful of road races each year. Recently I added a Wednesday night outing with a running group. This is pretty much all. The only times when I'm on display, out in my community. Well, this and my blog. But that's anonymous. And every week or two, we'll get together with another family for drinks, dinner, that sort of thing. Quiet life. Not a ton of social interaction.
When I do something in public and do it well, I want someone to notice, to comment, to validify. Great spin class! You smoked that 5K! Excellent briefing! Wow, you really nailed that! How do you grill your hot dogs so perfectly? I'm looking for that pat on the back. The affirming email. An acquaintance to approach me, tell me that people are talking about how great I was. Seriously. This has to be some sort of mental illness. If I was on Facebook, I'd be tallying "Likes".
On Sunday, I posted an essay to my blog. Beer Running. I loved it. I started writing it as a promotion piece for a fitness oriented council I serve on, but it morphed into a heartfelt piece about my inability to connect with others. And then... Silence. These postings don't come easy. Lots of work. Heart and soul, innermost thoughts, all that crap. I'm looking for a nod. A "plus-one". A positive comment. "Your essay changed my life." This doesn't happen. And why should it? I don't do much of that either. I don't even know why people read my blog. It's all over the place. Fitness, mental illness, ranting about society, technology, teachers. In truth, I don't even know if anyone reads my blog. Lots of page views. From all around the world. But how long do they stay? Stumble in, think "what the hell is this?" Then quickly click out.
And why do I care? I blog for myself. To work through my issues. Give myself space and a backdrop where I can ponder. To improve my writing. And it works. On the days I write, I feel better. More at peace. I've purged my demons. Opened a valve to let out some steam. But once I post the essay, the peace is gone. Now I'm just looking for someone to prop me up. Acknowledge that they read the essay. Argue a point. Anything.
I have the same issue with spinning. I instruct the class that I want to take. The workout has purpose, the music too. But the workout and the music are unlike the other classes at my fitness center. Especially the music. Hard driving classic rock and punk. A bit of Reggae. Some middle-eastern folk music, weird kids' music. Anything. Except the radio pop and country the other instructors use. I started my own class because I was sick of other instructors calling off, sleeping in. This way I knew that if I showed up before dawn, the class would happen, the instructor would be there. Initially, I said I didn't care if anyone came. The point was the workout. Now I'm disappointed if only five people or six people show up. Disappointed if they don't walk out of the room mumbling "best.spin.class.ever."
And then I wait for the feedback. The feedback that never comes. An email. A phone call. "I never understood a balance sheet until I heard you explained it!" Or a link to someone's Facebook post. Telling the world how great I am. "Guys, you have to read this blog!" "... take this spin class!" It's pathetic, needy, high school.
I confessed this to my wife, Susan the other day. My need for external validation. BTW – Susan doesn't like it when I write about her on my blog. She feels that I make her seem too together, too evolved. But the fact is that she is more balanced and thoughtful than me. I am more instinctual. Primal. Impulsive. Childlike. And of course she told me exactly what I needed to hear, and what I already knew, but needed to be reminded. The only one who will give me the validation I need, the props I crave, is me. I am the only person I need to impress. Peace comes from actualization. Not from pats on the back. When I do my best, nail something – a run, a class, an essay, grilled meat – I should just soak it in, feel proud. And strive to improve next time. An audience of one.
A stupid validation joke from my past.
Me, handing my parking stub to the bartender: "Can you validate me?"
Bartender: "You're a wonderful person!"
Everyone is looking for it. I know this. I see posts on Google begging for plus-ones. To be circled. At work, I see posturing in meetings, bragging about achievements. This is the result of a lifetime of conditioning. Feedback from parents, teachers, employers. We are supposed to impress others. It's the American way. It might be the Malaysian way as well, I've never been to Malaysia. But I've learned from my below average educational achievements and my above average career that how others perceive me has a direct impact on how I feel about myself. How standards set by others dictate my self-worth.
Susan reminds me that I can only do my best. Once I've done that, I can coast. I don't need to worry anymore, I'm maxed out. Actualized. If it sucks, so be it. If no one else cares, so be that, too. I don't need to be awesome, better than everyone. Just as good as I can be. If I think I rocked a spin class, nailed a briefing, smoked a race, that's where peace lies, not in praise from others. But still, the phone doesn't ring. My email is full of spam, and I don't know what people write on Facebook. Wish they were writing about me.