It’s a very common piece of advice. Don’t worry what other people think. Just keep doing what you want to do and what you think is right and everything will work itself out in the end. People that provide you with this little nugget of wisdom surely mean well, but just like assuming that the money will follow, it is ultimately a naive perspective that isn’t particularly practical. Humans are, after all, a social species.
Gauging Relevance and Success
Now, I’m not saying that you should bend over backwards to gain the approval of everyone around you. That’s neither practical nor possible. What I am saying is that the only way we can really measure how we think we’re doing in life is through the assessment, direct or indirect, of other people.
In a very real sense, the most “successful” company is the one that drums up the greatest sales and generates the greatest revenue. The most “relevant” media outlet is the one with the largest readership or viewership. Even if you think that you’ve developed a fantastic product or you offer a wonderfully original perspective on world issues, it ultimately matters very little if there’s no one there to buy the product or listen to what you have to say.
Validation and Confirming My Existence
How can you know that you are truly alive? How can you know that what you do actually matters? How can you confirm that you do good work?
Yes, I fully appreciate that you need to believe in yourself before you can expect anyone else to believe in you. I fully understand that making a big impact in the life of one person can ultimately be much more powerful than having a negligible effect on a larger number of people. At the same time, we all seek the affirmation that what we do matters and that people care.
And this is even true for those who do not seek any recognition at all and prefer to remain anonymous. If I published a book under a pen name and it went on to be an international best seller, I would still well up with pride. The sense of accomplishment would be the same as if I had a byline for that same book. I would still know that what I did mattered. And that people cared enough to notice.
A Sobering Perspective
We are indeed a social species and part of the problem, at least with much of contemporary society and culture, is that many of us spend too much time thinking about ourselves (and what other people think about us) and not enough time thinking about others. The sooner we realize how seldom and how little people think about us, the sooner we can accept ourselves for who we truly are.
Other people do matter. It just has very little to do with self-validation at all.