In reflecting upon my life and times lately, I’ve had a new thought about what has worked and what hasn’t and why. For others, and for myself. I think it has to do with a certain form of status and credibility.
When we look to others for answers (which is a favored pastime for most of us), we look to those who have been remarkably noticeable on their path. We’re seeking for those who are enough like us to see ourselves in them, but also enough unlike us to have an excuse for why we’re not where they are already. We want people who seem less burdened by our burdens, and more rewarded than we are. In short, we seek to follow the successful.
So we look for markers of success like riches or fame, or preferably both (and riches can always buy fame). Even in seeking spiritual teachers, we tend to look to those who are the well-marketed ones. The “easy to listen to” instead of the more enlightened but more everyday folks already around us. We like to find the prettier and semi-distant ones. Perhaps someday we could touch the hem of a garment, but never befriend them.
Looking at my own adventures, I see that while I have been very fortunate, I’ve actively avoided amassing any fortunes. Instead, I’ve worked on building communities and helping build for others. Anything of my own that I launched, I did at (or below) cost. I did profit often enough to get by, but I lost out and quietly walked away far more often. This lead to a cycle of debt that I am (sigh) yet again working my way out from now.
Then there’s fame. Growing up around fame as I did, I never sought to be famous. I knew too many famous people! I saw what fame cost and decided at a young age that I was unwilling to pay for this on the other end.
So I worked hard to develop a core set of strengths as a performer that I saw as within reach of those who came to see the show. Whenever people would come up to me and say something like “You’re amazing! I could never do that” yes I knew they meant it as a compliment, yet to me it was one of the most hurtful things I could hear — it was the polar opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted people to feel like they could do exactly what I was doing, as that was the point of me getting on stage in the first place. I wanted to build a bridge so that we could all play together, never lead just to have others follow. I didn’t want followers, what I wanted was friends.
As a thinker, designer, writer, speaker, coach, and all the other more mental things I’ve done, I wanted to be remarkable, but not really noticeably so. I wanted to empower others from a position that is a little closer than most people are comfortable with. And definitely while embracing more discomfort than most people are willing to put up with. I wanted to deal with what’s really going on in its raw and untidy form instead of the sanitized versions we usually like to present. I went in vulnerable and comfortable with an elevated degree of chaos, and I expected others to meet me there. With their intentions if not yet with their abilities.
I see now that things like this directly sabotaged the fame that I could have grown. At the time, I was perfectly fine with that. Proud, even! I was never a rebellious artist type, but in my own way I didn’t want to sell out. And I didn’t.
As a result, I didn’t sell much of anything. Then again, remember that I didn’t want to sell gobs of anything. The environmental impacts of making single-use or downcycled things kept me from making most of the things I envisioned. The social and personal impacts of serving any given need tends to simply displace the struggle-of-the-day that we focus on, and I wasn’t about to simply shuffle pain for profit like that. I wanted to sell just enough to keep people engaged and inspired and supplied on their own conscious journeys. Not following, but leading themselves, because this has the potential to shift the very nature of our struggles.
One thing I don’t think I ever tried to sell was a solution to a self-identified problem. I sold what I saw as true solutions to the underlying problems people would rather avoid acknowledging. Noble maybe, but a recipe for financial success it is not.
I kinda had a sense of most of this. And I was clear from the get go that I was a weirdo. People had told me this a lot from an early age, so for me it was factual statement and as close to a recognition of my true self as I was likely to get from folks. Call me a weirdo, and I’ll say “thank you” with a big smile.
What I didn’t understand is what this was costing me. In avoiding the costs of fame, I managed to find an anti-fame that cost nearly as much: almost no one wants to listen.
It’s hard to scale your impact when people don’t share it with others of their own accord. And if people can’t even describe what happened, then they can’t spread what happened — even if they do want to.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the work I’ve done over the years. Usually pretty quietly, always very intentionally. I’ve accomplished some pretty remarkable things, I think.
I wonder if, now in 2021, I might want anyone else to notice? Not for me, but for the work itself to go further than I myself can take it.
Perhaps it’s time for a new choice in this new year?
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