Olympic gold medals

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard this story and I’ve likely shared it on this blog before, but it’s worth mentioning again.

A man can be seen walking around a shopping complex with a parking stub in his hands and a confused or troubled look on his face. The attendant at the information kiosk asks, “Sir, are you looking for validation?” He replies, “Aren’t we all?”

Admittedly, it’s a rather lame joke, but it does reveal a universal truth. We are all looking for some form of validation (and not just for reimbursed parking). We want to feel like we are making a difference, like we matter in some way. We’d like to think we are being recognized and accepted for who we are.

In a completely ideal world under completely ideal circumstances, the reason why you should do what you love is because it provides you with intrinsic value. That thing, whatever that thing may be, provides you with an intrinsic sense of joy or meaning or fulfillment. It is valuable in and of itself.

You play tennis, because you like to play tennis. You’re probably not playing tennis because you wish to fulfill your fantasy of winning the championship at Wimbledon. In an ideal world, you’re not playing tennis as a means to an end. It’s not to make money. Staying healthy and keeping fit are just happy side effects. But that’s because tennis is “just” a hobby.

What happens when your ambitions become more professional in scope, even if they are not technically a part of your day job. Perhaps you run a YouTube channel or a podcast on the side. The goal isn’t necessarily to get rich from doing it. The goal is to have fun. But it can get awfully disheartening when you’ve been at it for months and you don’t have the viewers and listeners to show for your efforts.

You seek validation. You want to be recognized for your efforts, even if there is no direct monetary benefit. When you put out a new video every week and it only garners a handful of views, you can feel deflated. You can feel like throwing in the towel, even though your original objective was just to “have fun” with it. You want people to notice, even if you don’t want to become Internet famous.

For years, I’ve had this grand vision that my legacy will be found through my writing. For me, validation means seeing that people are actually reading this blog. For me, validation means people are buying my book and enjoying its contents. It’s not that I have a fragile ego (or maybe I do) that requires constant reassurance. I just want to feel like my efforts are not all for naught.

But I’ll keep writing. One day, as they say, senpai might notice me.

Image credit: Paul Hudson (Flickr)