I’ve just published a guest post at The Change Blog called “Productivity and Owning Our Shadow.” It’s about how we’ll often put off working on a project when making progress requires us to tap into part of ourselves we aren’t fully okay with — maybe the part that’s ambitious, sentimental, childlike, or something else.
I sometimes notice this in myself when I’m writing fiction, which I’ve been trying my hand at lately. For some time, I had trouble making progress on writing a scene where one character is darkly, primally angry — because, of course, writing it brought up the part of me that can feel that way.
But as I wrote the scene, I got this interesting sense that I was making peace with that part, and integrating it more deeply into who I am, instead of treating it as a weird, dangerous outsider.
Anyway, enjoy the piece!
I think we’d all like to believe that we don’t care whether anyone pays attention to us. We’re heroically forging our own path, and if other people don’t care about what we’re doing or think it’s important, that’s just their loss. But if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’ll see that the reality is a little different.
If you’re a blogger, for example, can you truthfully say you don’t care whether anyone reads what you write? If it didn’t matter whether anyone read your writing, why would you bother blogging at all? Just to organize your thoughts? Sorry, but I don’t buy it.
Uh oh, now we’re treading into dangerous territory, aren’t we? If you admitted you wanted attention from others, wouldn’t that make you a narcissist? A people-pleaser? A needy child in a grownup’s body? There’s nothing good about that, is there?
The Gift of Narcissism
Or is there? Do you suppose Michelangelo would have spent four years painting the Sistine Chapel if he didn’t care whether anyone saw it? That Shakespeare would have written all those plays if he didn’t care whether anyone read them? That Michael Jackson would have recorded Thriller if it didn’t matter whether anyone heard it?
My point is that the human desire for attention has gifted us with a massive amount of brilliant creative output. If people didn’t care about being noticed by others, the world would be far poorer for it.
And, yes, that same desire has probably produced some horrors in human history. I’ll grant you that, if Hitler didn’t care about getting attention, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to become chancellor of Germany. Maybe he would have stayed an unappreciated artist.
But all this means is that our desire for attention, like any other human quality, has light and dark sides. It isn’t inherently good or bad. If we consciously harness it, it can help us do incredible things for the world.
Letting Go Of Denial
I think it’s a shame, then, that we often hate and deny our desire for attention. Instead of acknowledging it in ourselves, we project it onto others. “They’re the narcissists and people-pleasers,” we tell ourselves. “I’m just doing my own thing.” Or maybe we see it in ourselves, but do our best to keep it hidden.
What if, instead of hating it, we accepted — and maybe even appreciated — this part of ourselves? What if we recognized that, without it, we’d be less able to give our gifts to the world?
I know, the ideal in personal growth is for your work to be an expression of your wholeness, rather than an attempt to become whole. But there’s a reason we call that an ideal. It’s something we aspire to, but we don’t usually achieve 100% in practice.
It may sound like a paradox, and in a sense it is, but if you want to be fully okay with yourself, I think you need to accept the part of yourself that doesn’t feel okay unless it’s getting attention. You can’t have unconditional self-love without loving all of your parts, imperfect as they may seem.
Oh, and thanks for paying attention to me and reading this.