Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Gold Star

I'm really enjoying Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. It is making me want to start one of my own.
One of her comments struck me as especially profound yesterday. She said something like, "One of my worst faults is my need for recognition. I always want the gold star, the award, or the acknowledgment for something I have achieved."

She hit the nail on the head. I too suffer from this fault. I think it comes from my upbringing in which I would watch my older sister participate in some activity and then study it carefully for how to garner maximum attention and credit for doing the same activity. I got pretty good at it. I'm ashamed to admit that I was this scheming at age fourteen or so.

Anyway, it really is a terrible fault and here is why. Ultimately, the most progress is made when nobody is looking or noticing. Is that motivating? The answer for a very mature and advanced person should be yes. Unfortunately for me (and I'm sure for a lot of other people) the answer is no. I don't find it motivating that I make more progress when nobody is looking.  This might be because whatever I was trying to do was not successful!  It could also be an outcome that was covered up (even if successful) or for some other reason not noticeable to other people. 

I'm so glad Gretchen reminded me about this fault that I have because I can reflect on it again and remember why it is such a destructive way to live life. Here are a few examples of where I know this to be true in my own experience.

When I was a child my mother forced me to take piano lessons. I hated it. I would devise reasons I couldn't practice. I was an expert at practice avoidance as a child. I'm not sure how I got through that stage because as an adult I love music and my appreciation of it. Most of this appreciation was gained when nobody (except my mother) was really noticing. As an adult I can download different classical songs on my ipod and enjoy a Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, or Beethoven (to name a few). My favorites, by far, are Chopin and Liszt. It is the romanticism of their music that really gets my emotions and feelings moving.

Interestingly, when I was a young adult at age eighteen I turned this hidden appreciation into a public display of recognition. I realized this hobby that had been largely secret up to that point, could really bring me public recognition and credit in my community. I performed at my high school graduation in front of five thousand people and it changed my life for better and for worse. The "worse" part was that I was now hooked on public recognition. I loved it. I thrived on pleasing the audience- having people ask me for more. The better part was that I really loved public performance and it felt really rewarding that they loved me too.  Unfortunately, although this taught me a very valuable life lesson it did not teach me the reality of life: Most unnoticed contributions do not turn into public recognition. Some of the most valuable contributions we make are never noticed and shouldn't be noticed.

There are many scientists and writers who have not been appreciated in their lifetimes. Does this mean they wasted their efforts during their lives? I'll have to say yes and no here. I hope they were able to find something that gave them enough recognition to pay their bills. However, they truly followed their passions, talents and interests and did make a recognizable contribution to the world.

Does a contribution have to be recognizable to be real? Its a fascinating question that does not have an answer. If it isn't recognizable then is it really a contribution? This could be the title of a book to be researched about all of the contributions that were never recognized during people's lifetimes. I may have just stumbled on my next book topic.