My friend Jeff said something to me a week ago. And it has been this constant tolling bell in my head since then.
Old high school friends and I got together for one of those “Glory Days” meetups. We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years and it all fell into place.
But as we waited for our last member to arrive, his car got a flat and we went to get him!
Jeff and I sat in the front and I let him know what was going on in my life. I shared with him briefly about struggling with a major career change, a drastic change in pay, and a lack of direction. I felt a bit of a failure hitting midlife, and although I absolutely loved what I did, it was hard to show my face. My accolades gathered dust. And then Jeff opened his wisdom-filled maw:
“You’re the only one who is judging you, man. It really doesn’t matter to us.”
And I shook my head for a bit as we struggled to locate our missing friend, stranded on the highway. We fixed his flat with my amazing supervision and headed off.
We spent the rest of the evening laughing and telling old stories. We recalled pranks that most likely would have gotten us on CNN and not in a great way. Not in a funny way. More like shutting the school down and we’d be in juvie way. We drank great beer, ate great food and just shared our lives. We headed home, promising we’d do it again. And we will.
This week I’ve realized that my career or my writing needed to impress people. (If there is an Olympic trial for mentioning that I went to Afghanistan, well, please hand over that gold). I needed to be this successful, moxy filled fella. But Jeff’s words rung in my head and when I found myself in this mode of condemnation, this demoralizing circuit, I realized he was right and I was the only judge in the room.
It really doesn’t matter.
I’ve struggled for so long to hustle and find a side hustle or write a book. I’ve tried countless projects and half-assed attempts.
But the fuel I’ve used is the hope for attention not the pursuit of something I love. And that fuel based on attention runs out, oh so quickly. And the project gets shelved and when my need for more attention hits, well, let’s do it again. Let’s come up with something else to half-ass create.
Every success I’ve had has been grounded in my love and passion for it, not my need for people’s approval. And that’s the fuel I’ll work on, I’ll switch to. And it is not a light switch I am flicking off, but an idol I’m chipping away at. A great golden idol.
So now my homework is: what do I actually want to work on that I love and where I couldn’t care less what other people think.
So I have to ask, what do you do for people’s approval instead of love?