No one is watching.
Few people care.
You are invisible.
Does this not sound like good news? I hope to change your mind about that.
Part of the reason people fail in their early efforts, is that they believe everyone is watching.
Animals freeze when they spot something observing them in the trees. They will not react until they understand the threat, ascertain the situation and analyze the next move. Until that moment, they are stuck. I see this all the time with deer during my morning walks. It’s comical to see their indecision. What is that thing? Do I keep munching, or run? It is only when I either pounce like a cat or keep on walking that their minds are made up. Before that, they are in the ugly state known as analysis paralysis.
You are a sophisticated animal. You do the same thing. Unless, of course, you realize that no one is watching.
Once you figure out that your mom isn’t going to read your book, your neighbor doesn’t know where your business is, your sister could care less about your fitness routine, things begin to change.
No one is watching.
This is freedom.
For all the bids for fame we participate in during our lifetime, we can fail to realize the hidden beauty of being mostly, completely unknown.
This week, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence ranted about her inability to function outside of four walls, due to the suffocation of her own fame.
Authors, after achieving fame, sometimes adopt a new name in order to reinvent themselves. They shed their old skin and don a new one, hoping to grab the goodies of being unknown.
What are these goodies?
1. Being unknown allows you to make as many artistic and business mistakes as it takes to get it right, without a high social consequence.
2. Being unknown frees you from the paralyzing fear that people will find out how mediocre you really are.
3. Being unknown gives you freedom to move, pivot, remake, redo and retry without backlash.
4. Being unknown gives you the courage to do something strange, different or controversial.
5. Being unknown gives you space to work at your own pace.
6. Being unknown allows you to tell the truth.
Let’s face it, we all dream of the money and fame that comes to well-established icons of greatness. However, when we start (and everyone has to start at the bottom) we sometimes think that all our friends and family and coworkers are thrumming their fingers together, judging us.
I used to think so too, until I wrote my first book.
A few years back, I had a lot to celebrate. I had completed an epic novel, a book that took me five years and thousands of hours to write (on average five hours of work per day, the equivalent of 380 straight days of work). I was immensely proud to have finished it. To make matters more exciting, when I began to submit the book I had three agents interested in representation. After chatting with all three agents, I chose the one that seemed the most enthusiastic and we began the submission process.
I received notes from wonderful editors. Some of these editors were huge names, people who I could only dream of hearing from.
Amidst all this excitement, I decided to send my book to my family, who had politely asked about it at dinner parties. I sent an email to 18 people. My parents, my grandparents, my siblings, all my close aunts and uncles and my husband, none of which had read any part of the book. In the email, I included the submission letter from my agent (who had very glowing things to say about the book and my writing) as well as promising feedback from several big editors, including a high ranker at Disney Studios. Attached to this email was my magnum opus along with a request to read it.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
I heard nothing back.
Nothing from anyone.
Not a single “Wow! This is exciting!” Not even a, “I will read this on my next trip!” Not a single phone call.
Zip. Zero. Zilch.
While my writer’s group did read it (thank you, guys!) not one person who shared my genetics (or my bed) degned to click a button and check it out.
At first, this really hurt. Then I began to think of it as a hidden opportunity. I began to write more honestly, and insert more vulnerability into my stories and articles. I penned darker fiction, stuff that would make my grandmother’s hair curl. My characters acted out the pieces of the human condition we are not supposed to talk about. I got things published.
It helped in business too. I was stifled by my family’s criticism and dislike of the used, vintage junk I was so fond of. For years I had endured comment after comment, or worse, stony silence regarding my adoration. When I took time off and worked corporate, my job was acceptable, but when I worked vintage, I was weird and possibly insane.
Once I realized that they weren’t actually paying attention, I reopened my vintage shop and in mere months it grew to become the number one shop in my niche, serving tens of thousands of customers locally and worldwide.
But what if people really are watching, you ask? What if you’ve published your book, launched your business and are in the thick of getting noticed?
If that’s the case, it’s important to realize that though your stats are soaring and your presence is building, people still aren’t watching.
The scarcity of attention is a well written-about topic. Everybody wants yours and you want everybody’s. At times, you will get a little of it. That sure feels great when it happens, but you must think of the “watching” in the abstract. You must think of the likes, the follows, the stats as good, but impersonal.
It isn’t about you at all. It’s about the fix you provide.
The human condition is pain. The essence of selling is the alleviation of pain (insert Princess Bride quote here). We are all rushed, harassed and in desperate need of a fix. If you provide a nice fix, you get that momentary upvote. But in no time, that person will go on to the next fix and the next and the next. They aren’t watching that closely because they are watching themselves excruciatingly closely, they can’t see you jumping for attention behind their own mirror image, behind the shiny new toy they just ordered from Amazon.
So go out, do the thing. Fail. Embarrass yourself. Be really bad at it. Be weird and ugly and strange.
And if you do, I promise not to look too closely.
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