Recognition is a funny thing. On one hand, it can help you realize when you’re on the right path. A basketball player knows if his team is doing well if their score is higher than the other team. His team is recognized by the league when it wins the tournament at the end of the year. Everybody knows who deserves the award. It’s completely fair and objective.
In more subjective realms, recognition can be devastating. Being recognized by a group gives you validation and tells you that the group approves of you. This can trick your brain into being more like the group in order to receive more recognition.
When you put too much weight in the opinions of a group, your definition of success lies in someone else’s hands.
The best way to fight this is to change your definition of success.
Human psychology is backwards
People are always looking for validation. It’s human nature to be accepted as a part of the group. When we were cavemen, it would take the whole tribe to bring down a woolly mammoth. A lone caveman wouldn’t survive very long on his own.
Our current age is vastly different. A smart, driven person can succeed on their own with little acceptance from any groups. You still have to play nice when you’re out in the world, and if you want to keep your 9-5, you have to get along with your coworkers.
But people today are capable of being a member of multiple communities. You can find easily find the group that fits you instead of changing yourself to fit the group. It’s also completely fine to do things that no one else enjoys or approves of. They don’t get to define your success.
The measure of success is not recognition, it’s authenticity.
When you start basing your successes by your own definition, you can become a success whenever you want. You can be a successful musician by simply creating music you enjoy. As long as it lives up to your standards, you’re a success.
And ironically, once you start defining your own success, you start to get more recognized success.
To get more readers, you need to care less about what the reader thinks. The more you care about the reader while you’re writing, the less interesting your writing becomes. The only way to truly satisfy your readers is to not care at all what they think (sorry readers–but not really).
If Jackson Pollack gave a shit what his fans would think, his art would’ve been dull and boring. He probably would’ve painted another bowl of fruit just like the millions of struggling artists before him.
Instead, he thought of a new way of painting. He would just let his brush flow wherever it pleased. Some people would say it’s just a jumble of paint–and that’s okay. Other people understand what he was trying to do, and they love his art.
People don’t want anything specific. They want something authentic.
But what people find authentic can have very different definitions.
Authenticity is not recognized equally
Mike Winkelman, aka Beeple, is an artist known for his weird and unique graphic designs. His digital art projects range from fat naked Buzz Lightyear to Kim Jong-un in a Pikachu costume with breasts. His collage of 5,000 creations was sold at auction for $69 million in March 2021.
To some people, his creations are perverse and disgraceful. To others, his art is a true expression of authenticity.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Beeple’s case, his greatest admirer also happened to be stupid rich. But even if he didn’t sell his works of art for a buttload of money, I’m betting he’d still consider himself successful.
The key is to keep going and being completely authentic to yourself. Before the auction that made him a multi-millionaire, the highest amount anyone ever paid for his art was $100. But after 5,000 days of creating a new and interesting images, Beeple had grown enough of a following that enjoyed his quirky and off-color graphics that he was able to capitalize on the opportunity.
Creative work is just different. There are some best practices and preferred structures at work, but at it’s core, creative work is rebellious. In order to be completely creative, you need to make something that’s never been done before. And as long as you are doing what truly gives you joy and purpose, there’s nothing more unique and authentic.
And this doesn’t only apply to artists.
Entrepreneurship is art for business people. It takes an authentic idea to be successful. People will support you if your business is built around your unique perspective.
That’s not to say that your business has to be revolutionary. You could be the 10,000th hot dog stand in New York City and still be a successful entrepreneur as long as you’re truly passionate about running that hot dog stand.
Authenticity is the true measure of success.
Easier said than done
It’s easy enough to say that you should be authentic, but finding that purpose is a much harder task. Many people, me included, are struggling to find their true passions. It sounds corny and cliche, but knowing your “why” is really the key. Once you have that in mind, you just need to figure out the “how.”
I used to think that building a business around this blog would be my passion. I’m starting to realize that that just isn’t the case.
But I regret nothing.
Learning to write and making it a habit has been one of the most influential skills of my life. There’s no better way I know of to making my thinking more clear.
The act of writing helps me weed out and experiment with potential “hows.” Making a business out of this website was one possible “how” for me, and writing helped me to realize it wasn’t feasible.
By trying to achieve my goals, I learned a skill that would eventually crush them. Ironic.
But that’s alright. The skills I learned along the way will make my future ventures that much easier.
Thanks for reading!