Lately, I’ve been feeling conflicted. The kind of internal conflict that makes you doubt exactly what your temperament is. I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion and extroversion and the conflict between wanting to stay out of the limelight, and wanting recognition, or wanting people to appreciate your work. At the same time, this conflict is also about wanting to do good work, or work that means something, and not asking for the limelight, but just carrying on doing that work. Unfortunately, I think this world we live in, with social networking, blogs and websites, invites us to be more narcissistic, or seek the limelight. My internal conflict is about wanting to write and blog for the hell of it, but part of me, this narcissistic part, also wants recognition, and to be ‘out there’.
Having said that, I also shy away from the idea of ‘fame’ or ‘popularity’ because that’s not what I want. I want to inspire people, and to give them ideas, to make people think about things, but I don’t want to be the centre of attention. Thinking about it, writers often feel like this, although it’s not strictly something that only writers feel.
There is a streak of me that feels proud and energised by the praise of others, but there is another part of me that pulls me back down to earth and makes me feel like, ‘well – on to the next thing, squish your ego right down!’ I’m wary of becoming too ‘big for my boots’ and not accepting constructive criticism. After all, writing means you have to accept constructive criticism – from yourself and people who read your work, or the many drafts an article or piece of writing goes through.
Maybe as humans, we have to acknowledge these internal conflicts. None of us are all sweetness and light. Just because I’m an introvert, doesn’t mean that I don’t want recognition for my work. I also realise that recognition isn’t everything. I can’t hinge my success on how much kudos I get or don’t get for something I’ve written. Success is, I think, about getting on with it, working hard and making your own markers of success.
My markers of success tend to be whether what I’ve written has inspired someone, whether my writing makes other people come up with ideas, whether it starts an interesting and timely debate. Sometimes I just want to make people smile. I guess part of it is having someone say I’m a good writer, but I also know that not everyone is going to like the same thing – everyone has subjective taste, and that extends to what we read. I’m learning not to take it too personally if people aren’t interested in something I write.
These internal conflicts can also end up making us feel terrible if we don’t check them, and remind ourselves what exactly it is that we value the most. I’m only human – sometimes I’ve been jealous or envious of someone else’s success. Yet I just remind myself that jealousy will just eat you up and what I really need to do is be happy for that person, learn from their success, and see it as an inspiration instead. I try to flip the emotion into something else. I recognise that my yearning for people’s praise won’t really lead to feeling fulfilled or happy. It will just make me feel more conflicted – as my down-to-earth common sense battles with my ego.
So, I’ve been trying to sit myself in the middle ground. A space where I learn that it’s okay to be conflicted, but that it doesn’t give me anything, except a whole slew of negative emotions – sadness, jealousy, frustration. Instead, the middle ground is where I get on with things. I let all of that melt away and just write and create. Creation is the middle ground. It acts like a balm, something soothing that reminds you that everyone is different, everyone has their own creative centre and talents.
I find that the more I create, the less likely I am to desire someone’s praise, because the act of creation is the point. It’s nice to get praise, and recognition doesn’t mean you want to be famous, it just means what you’re doing has been noticed and appreciated. I’m learning to quietly accept that recognition, but realising that it’s not everything. Some of the greatest creators in the world didn’t get recognised until after their deaths. I find that desperately sad but it also serves as a reminder that yes, having an audience is amazing, and sometimes very necessary, but I don’t want an inflated ego, I just want to keep my self belief.
In Susan Cain’s Quiet, she does discuss that introverts can sometimes be intensely conflicted, because recognition often comes with expectations of behaving like an extrovert – for example, giving talks or networking at events and so on. She also says that sometimes introverts will put that fear behind them when it comes to talking and socialising around something that matters deeply to them, such as a cause they are campaigning for. In some ways, I agree with this – I have in the past put my fear of social judgement behind me, and gone on a feminist march, been to rallies, and to feminist networking events.
Again, this is also a kind of middle ground. I like meeting like-minded people, people who don’t worry too much about small talk; at campaigning events people are usually interested in very similar things so of course the conversation will skip ahead to the deeper things. I’ve also found, for example, running the (admittedly small at the moment) deaf book group something that I can be confident about, because I love reading so much. When something matters to you, that conflict between introversion and extroversion often melts away.
‘The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.’ ~ Susan Cain – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.