Writing is fun for me. I know it’s strange, but writing has gotten me through some rough times. It helps me organize my thoughts as I work through a problem. It helps me release stress or frustration, to let it go. Between writing, reading, and music, sometimes I think that, given time, I could solve any problem. It’s that good.
Handy that if I ever get good at it, I might even be able to make a living as a writer.
All over the internet I meet people who call themselves “influencers” and “thought leaders” and other silly titles to hide that they aren’t anything, aren’t good at anything, aren’t even trying. It’s as if they’ve already given up being useful even though they are generally young and have no life experience. Many haven’t even gone to college (or are so young they haven’t gone, yet), a terrific place to learn that you don’t know jack shit and to pick up some actual critical thinking skill. Social media makes this “influencer” thing possible in a way, for one to label oneself with such a title and hope that you, like them, have set your sights so low that you’ll give them some money and praise just for having the balls to try such a scam. Since all they’re doing is passing along trite sayings, memes, and attaboys – usually from the standpoint of an ignorant, privileged white guy who wouldn’t have to work that hard to start with, you know, if he bothered to try – it’s not as if you can check their credentials.
Oh, my god. They’ve found a way to be professional mansplainers. Fuck.
Or perhaps these “influencers” hope they can be like those pretty fools on TV who are famous for being famous even though they’re otherwise contributing nothing and appear to be idiots. Is all this the result of too many participation trophies? setting ourselves up as important or experts without doing the work? without even trying to be useful at anything? Can you be an expert of trying nothing, of giving up before you start, and setting yourself up as an “influencer?” as a “thought leader?” Why do I have a picture of Jeff Spicoli in my head right now?
Are we telling our kids that whatever they do it’s good enough because they showed up? ‘Cause that’s gonna suck when they step out into the brutal, real world.
Or will it? Is this the world now? Is the bar moving that low everywhere?
I’m not saying these mooks have no value. Our expectations really have gotten so low that there are people who are paid for being dumb-as-a-rock, shallow, and pretty. More power to ’em. I’d be embarrassed, but that’s me. It doesn’t matter what I think. The point is there are a lot of dumb-as-a-rock, shallow, pretty people. Supply way exceeds demand. Some of them are going to have to put forth some effort if they want to make a living.
“Influencer” and “thought leader” aren’t job titles or even career goals. They are by-products that result from the efforts and interactions of some special people because they are that good, that effective, in their chosen fields. It is a result of their knowledge, their understanding, their passion, and their willingness to share. There are actual “influencers” and “thought leaders” in the world. They didn’t give up and decide that was what they were going to do. They earned these positions by doing the work, by learning and practicing and striving to be the best they could be in their actual fields. As a result of their efforts, they are recognized for what they’ve done, what they continue to do, and for what they’ve inspired others to do. Influencers and thought leaders include Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Dawkins, Gloria Steinem, Hedy Lamarr, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and JK Rowling, to name a few.
Influencers and thought leaders are some of the people who originate the ideas and say the things that lead to the memes these “influencers” and “thought leaders” retweet.
There are jobs that people look down on, and I’ve never understood why. To work the fry station or unload semis overnight or deliver things is a job, and it pays the bills. Sometimes that is what a person wants to do, and I can honestly see the allure of going in, sweating and straining and working my ass off, and then being able to go home, shower, and be done for the day. I’ve done it. Delivery is actually pretty stressful, but for the other sorts of jobs I am referring to, I can see it. What I mean is that work is work. People should be able to earn a living wage for whatever full-time job they do, and there is no reason to look down on another for their field. Doing a job and getting paid to do it is evidence that it’s necessary to someone, evidence of the value of the work and of the worker.
In the book “Outliers,” (2008) author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” I have not read that book, but it’s on the list. While I am aware the 10,000 Hour Rule has been disproved, the idea behind it is good. Even with some talent, doing well at anything requires practice. Lots and lots of practice.
I’m also meeting a lot of people for whom my effort (and most everyone else’s) will not be enough. According to them, it’s vitally important to know what I am doing now so that they may assign my value and insult me if I don’t measure up. According to them we must measure our “success” or “value” on how much we make (for what we do) and what we’ve already accomplished as if all the work toward a goal is useless until the goal itself is reached. Life is a journey, but to them what I do, how it ends, whether or not I’ve reached goals (their goals, not mine), are the one thing they judge me for. It’s as if they expect me to have my obituary with me at all times so that I may offer it up, holding my breath as they review it and decide if I am worthy of their praise or if all I get is derision.
Maybe that works for them in their shallow, tiny worlds, but that is not how good people perceive worth of another human being.
I thoroughly enjoy my writing. Right now it’s a hobby, but I take it seriously. When someone tells me they love my work and are a new follower, it warms my heart. The gratitude I feel is at once validation but it’s also encouragement, and it makes me wish I could reach through this machine and hug them and tell them how important it is to me that they took the time to tell me this. They are my inspiration, my “influencer” du jour. I’ll write, anyway, but the lovely act of kindness that person did for me is with me. It stays with me, and it helps offset the insults.
I’d worked 25 years in various jobs, mostly customer service, before I finished my programming degree (and have almost finished my business degree – no reason to rush it now). I learned that a letter from a customer for good service was much more valuable, and much less common, than a letter of complaint. Bosses love to read that a customer appreciated me so much they bothered to write. I loved it, too. These little things, a compliment on my writing, is like that but even better. This is a part of me I give. Yes, it’s for me that I do it, but it’s for you that I share it. When you give back to me it’s like sunshine and puppies and that precious connection with another human that we all appreciate but forget sometimes we need. It means I accomplished a goal. I got the idea across and someone else understood, appreciated it. It means I’m getting better at this.
I used to sell pictures (animals usually, for textbooks and such) as a side while I worked an awful job that paid the bills (mostly). Taking pictures, writing, etc. were what I originally wanted to do before I made a bad choice, skipping journalism study at the university to get married (and going to community college instead, while I could, anyway). That doesn’t mean I stopped taking the photos or that I stopped writing. I am no longer a professional photographer. I rarely snap pictures even for myself these days. But I have never stopped writing. Never.
What you choose to do is your business. How you earn your money or how you practice hoping to eventually be paid for your work is on you. Don’t let other people get you down because writing or playing guitar or painting or cutting hair or whatever it is you do isn’t enough in their opinion. Their opinion means nothing in the grand scheme of your life. Don’t let other people get you down because you’re not good enough, yet. At least you’re trying, really trying (and if you’re half-assing it, why bother at all?). Outside of a job interview, their approval doesn’t matter, and their pressure/insults are likely a sign that they’re jealous of your ability or your progress, so far, in your chosen area. That’s their problem, not yours, even if they are trying to make it yours.
Anyway, when it comes to hobbies, work, anything you want to learn, practice. Like a koan, the continued effort, the deliberate practice, is immensely important. Unlike a koan, you can reach the goal, solve the riddle or find that answer. And you can continue to improve from there. Maybe one day you’ll inspire someone. Maybe you’ll be in influencer. For real.