I’m giving Seth Godin‘s prompt a second shot. My first response was true, but I don’t think I dug deep enough. There’s more to uncover. So, here’s a second attempt for Quest2105 Theme Day 10, which comes to us with care from bestselling author and visionary Mr. Godin :
Who would miss you if you were gone? If you didn’t show up to work, didn’t send out that newsletter, didn’t make that sales call, didn’t tweet that tweet… who would miss it? How does your answer shape how you’ll live out 2015?
The Literal Response
Who would miss me? My parents. My brother. My dog. That’s about it. That’s probably not true, but those are the people that confidently come to mind. We are all resilient, and the missing slows down, and changes, and morphs and lessens. Missing changes to memory to sweetness. It’s how we talk about Nana or Grandpa. Less missing, more remembering over the course of time. What is missing, anyway?
This is not a question I think about. Not a topic I ponder with frequency, if ever. Not because I am afraid to think of my end, not because I am afraid to think of the sadness of others. Mostly, because it’s a hypothetical question. Or, more appropriately, a question that’s not mine to answer. In graduate school, I learned you can’t ask hypothetical questions on a survey if you want statistically significant or meaningful results. I think the same applies here.
I am here now, one day I won’t be. Thinking about who will miss me seems to slim the fullness of life and its opportunities. Does it create attachments that don’t propel growth? That limit actions?
I’ve left a lot of people, place and things over the course of my little life. I left my hometown for as-far-away-as-possible college (literally, but not intentionally). Left my college town for a long bike ride cross-country. Left behind a small business making duct tape fashion accessories to move west and pursue new things. Left behind friends. Lived far from family. Not because I am running from anything, but because I am seeking something, and I am not afraid. (Or, more appropriately, I am afraid, but facing that fear is a provoking and growth-filled action). Have people missed me? I don’t know, it’s not my place to say. What I do know is that life goes on, regardless.
Except for the departure that comes with death, the leaving is optional. It’s always a choice. In fact, maybe it’s even a privilege, a blessing to practice the non-attachment that allows moving and missing. There is something in the fear of leaving, the fear of others missing you, which holds you back. Sometimes the thought of what you will miss holds you back. It’s all of that attachment to people, to places, to potential, to avoid hurting others – that holds us back, from leaving, from writing, from publishing, from being full practitioners of ourself-ness.
Is it selfish to not think about who would miss me? Too self-focused? Too determined to practice non-attachment and to let go too easily? Is it some sort of emotional self-protection, or self-devaluation?
The Creative Missing
On the micro scale, I don’t think about who would miss me because there is a part of me that so often wants to be hidden and quiet and behind the scenes and not missed. I fear there is ego wrapped up in the spotlight, or in being missed. I don’t want to be loud, a nuisance, a burden, a centerpiece. I don’t make a fuss unless backed into a corner. I do yearn to be recognized and valued, but my guilt about striving for that acknowledgement and success, for wanting it, keeps me muted. Is this a constant battle between my ego and non-attachment or whatever the opposite of ego is?
I am repelled and repulsed by the idea of self-promotion, and I don’t know to what degree that holds me back from being missed. How much of that is fear of the spotlight; how much is lack-of-confidence in my ideas and writing and creativity; and how much is just my personality. If we want to be creative business people, there is a certain amount of self-selling and self-advertising and self-involvement that is part of the process, no? What is the line between sharing a genuine creative product and pushing an empty creative product that is more about you and a snazzy head shot and pretty website? Are we selling ourselves, or our creative work? (Man, that sounds snarky, and I apologize). I am so skeptical and afraid of selling myself.
I’ve always been a proponent of the concept that good ideas rise to the top, catch fire, and take off. But I am guessing that doesn’t happen in a totally organic way, there is strategy and self-promotion and a million other striving-related things involved, not to mention work and practice. But does my genuine self, my best self, my core get lost in this process?
In some ways, I’ve become shy. I want to be appreciated by my true merit, not because of my luck of being born into a certain family, or how people perceive me to look. There is this separation between myself and my ‘work’. That it’s not about me, but about the value of my ideas, contributions, merits, creative ventures – writing, ideas, passion. I guess maybe I need to feel 100% confident that I’ve earned anything miss-able that I produce.
The heart of it may be that the louder I am, the bigger I am, the more confident I am in my story, my voice, my contribution – the more likely that someone will call me out for being a fake. This scares me. I have all this passion and memory and perspective on my experience, from the birdsong to the freeze-dried canary grass to the first kisses and pen pals and big dipper and departures. But what if my memories are all wrong, off, not-mine and rejected by the big world? I can’t even agree on the contents of a conversation I had last week, how can I know my feelings are right, and that in sharing them they will be respected? What if my story-telling-self doesn’t get it right (and, on this topic, listen to this great TED Radio Hour interview with Daniel Kahneman on “how experiences become memory”).
Plus, there are a million other creative, inspired writers, business people, leaders, and artists out there. Big hearts, big people, big personalities. Lovers. Winners. Inspirers. Communicators. A billion places to go for that kind of inspiration. I feel like peanuts. An imposter. A novice. A rookie. And that everyone can read my counterfeit nature from a million miles away. What is the value in what I have to say or create, when a million other people have already done it? What makes mine different or worthwhile? Is there anything worth missing in there, and would anyone actually miss it?
And how did these awesome, existing creative souls make it. And what does making it mean anyway? People liking what you create? Working into a situation where you can do what you love for a living? Acclaim? I’m thinking of some of my favorites like SARK or Sabrina Ward Harrison, these totally inspirational creators who have such a presence!
I put pen to paper (and brush and glue to paper, and pigs and chickens to pasture) because I like love it. It helps me clear my thoughts, capture feelings and moments in time. Magnify and memorialize. It is, primarily, an act for myself and about myself. It doesn’t really get any more selfish than that, does it? And so I censor myself to avoid this ego. And as soon as I stop writing from my heart, when the gold thread from my insides no longer pours out as the ink of my pen, everything I write feels limp and unreal and fake. I self-censor either by limiting what I say to avoid hurting others. Or because I don’t have sufficient faith that my feelings and experiences are valid or will stand up as “real enough” to the judgment of others. That someone will stand up and say, “It didn’t happen that way, you are wrong. That doesn’t count. You are a liar.” Because memory is fallible. But the biggest self-censoring comes from this: sometimes I sit down and write what I think others want to hear. Because why is my commentary on the newest Weight Watchers commercial interesting, who cares about what my heart feels, what could I say that hasn’t been said?
But anything produced through that censoring filter, when I don’t write for my own heart-audience of one, it all sounds like crap. A big pile of crap that no one is going to miss. Myself included.
So, after this very long-winded answer to who would miss me if I were gone, on writing and missing and big personalities and self-promotion and why-I-write – I have come to this conclusion. And, of course, it’s a question:
Are we to give the world what we think it wants, or are we to give the world our purest, most intimate, most real selves? Perhaps if we give the first of the two, there is nothing for the world to miss?
Maybe I don’t value myself enough to be missed. Maybe it’s time to do something about that.