Dear Seth Godin,
I hate this question. I hated it last year. I hate it again this year.
It’s tricky. It’s shape-shifting. It’s hard work. It feels like coming up against a tall, stone wall – and I think I can predict what’s on the other side, but I can’t tell exactly – and I am pretty sure my prediction is shallow and wrong and so I have to actually do the work instead of dial it in. And I can’t figure out exactly how to get over the wall. And it all just makes me angry and frustrated and stuck feeling. Because sometimes a girl just wants easy answers, not the very long route over or around the wall. A journey that takes a couple of days.
I call this question a shapeshifter because I don’t see the question the same way you do. (And because it continues to change as I probe at it.) Maybe, I don’t see this missing as part of building my tribe or an audience as you do. For me, it’s about personal relationships and the baggage we heft and carry with us that keeps us unnecessarily holding still because sometimes it’s just too hard to think about hurting people. You see, I don’t fit into that description you assign to people. That we all want to be missed. I don’t want to be missed. Maybe it’s because you’re a man. Maybe it’s because you’ve never suffered from being too nice. Maybe you’ve never been faced with the social norm that says: put other people’s feelings over yours. I don’t want people to miss me, or at the very least I don’t want to think about it – because that holds me back from action.
[Plus – quite frankly – shouldn’t we avoid assuming we know what other people are feeling? I’m not going to assume that I can put words in anyone’s head, nonetheless feelings. So last year, when I answered this question, I started naming the easy stuff. The handful of individuals about whom it did not feel egotistical to assume that they would miss me. The dog. My parents. My brother. I digress…]
Because, to me the thought of being missed is in the same category of being nice. It’s a dangerous thought. It’s one of those things that’s based in other people. What I mean is: you are asking a question that has to do with not just how I act – but how other people respond to how I act. And that maybe there is a certain way I want them to respond, which in turn requires me to act in a specific way to garner that response. And it implies that I may somehow change my actions, my self, because of how people react toward me, and how I want them to act toward me. To me, that makes me feel weaker, not stronger. That stretches me thinner, not growing my roots deeper. It’s a slippery slope. It’s a rubber band that holds me in tight, not the slingshot that catapults me forward at a tumultuous, joyful, chaotic pace into the unknown.
Let me rephrase. Maybe, at my core – I don’t want to care so much about what other people think about me.
Here’s the thing. Here’s why this question stung so bad last year. And why it still makes me curl my lip at you now. Last year, right before this Quest, I stepped out of a long, committed relationship. I left. And my world was full of missing. (Not my missing, but feeling the weight of other people’s missing.) And the kind of missing I couldn’t handle was the thought that there was someone missing me. And that missing caused her suffering. And that I was the cause of that missing, and in turn, suffering. And that, to end her suffering required me to reduce the missing, which meant to go back to something that I didn’t want to go back to. I didn’t want to do it anymore. And if we really want to put it into as few words as possible, in the middle of all of the goop of it – it came down to two sides of the scale. My happiness, or hers? Which is a dangerous place for nice girls who are so good at putting other people first. Who actually wants others to think badly of them? To rock the boat intentionally? I stayed, for a long time. I stayed out of nice and out of fear of another’s painful missing. And it meant that I put someone else in front of me. That missing was a disservice. I stayed based on what other people said they wanted. It was precisely because someone was going to miss me that I stayed – when I didn’t want to. When I shouldn’t have. Missing is inertia. It’s revering something that isn’t present. And if it isn’t present – just let it go.
So, last year, when you asked us Who would miss you? it wasn’t a hypothetical. I had just left. There was this one person who was telling me that she missed me, or any variety of things that could fall under that label. Or, at least that she wanted things to be different. And I had to do everything to talk around this one single fact when answering this question. To ignore that missing. To talk around it. To talk about everything except that. Because, I couldn’t admit that there was someone who did actually miss me. I had to ignore it. To pretend that it didn’t exist. In order to leave, and to stay gone – that last thing I needed to think about what if, and who was going to miss me. Because that question didn’t serve me. That question made me think about others. It took me out of being the center of my world, precisely when I needed to be the only thing at the center of my world. And, sometimes, you need to be the center of your own world. And you know what? Sometimes, sometimes – you just have to put blinders on and totally walk forward and be completely selfish and not care one tiny bit about who misses you and ignore anything except your self and the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other path you are trying to walk.
And quite frankly, I’m not sure this question will be helpful, ever. Looking back, had I stopped to think, or place too much weight upon the answer, of who would miss me – I never would have traveled across the country for the best four-year college experience a girl could have. I wouldn’t have quit my job and packed up my flat and biked cross country. I wouldn’t have felt brave enough to say nope-Mom-and-Dad-I-love-you-but-I-don’t-want-to-live-in-North-Carolina and instead settle down in Wisconsin. I wouldn’t have been strong enough to leave each and every time I needed to. I wouldn’t have the clarity to recognize, each time the need arises, when a relationship, a practice, a job, a pursuit, a person – is past its prime. When it’s not serving me. When it’s just time to move on. Because us nice folks, we place too much weight on what others think. And we don’t want to hurt their feelings. And we don’t want them to suffer in the missing, so we stay. And we miss a lot of really great scenery.
I don’t want to care if they would miss me if I were gone. That fear and discomfort can hold me back. This isn’t about building a bigger audience. Not about building a tribe. It’s about cultivating the willingness to ignore the question, to be brave, to move forward.
So, to make it official, after this long and winding rant. Here’s what I have to say to Seth Godin’s #MissMe questions for the latest Quest2016 prompt:
Would they miss you if you were gone?
I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to ask this question. I don’t want to be bound by the answer. This question doesn’t serve my growth and freedom, it only keeps me locked in with fear. Plus, how could I ever know anyway?
What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?
To not care at all what the answer is. To not be a person who acts in a way to avoid hurting the feelings of others. To know the truth and not care so much.
Here’s my response from last year: Nothing to Miss. It ended with one idea, and giant questions. Mostly, that I missed myself when I had lost myself, and this 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?”
I am deeply grateful to Mr. Godin for asking such a shapeshifting question that dragged my responses all over the page, ending up in so many states and counties of importance – while somehow still avoiding the one, very easy answer. I still hate the question, but I am grateful to be asked it again – to dive straight into that pinpoint of centered truth that I wasn’t brave enough to touch last year.