I've always leaned towards gaining approval of others - it's just how I'm wired. At times, it's a strength. Other times, it's a weakness.
Since I've taken up writing, hitting publish has become routine. But it hasn't come easy. Each time I send an article out into the interweb, it feels like I'm asking my wife to marry me all over again. Tense. Excited. Maybe a little neurotic.
I've worked (and continue to work) hard on finding my true voice. I'm learning that the closer I get to my most authentic exertion, the more vulnerable I become. Here's what Neil Gaiman says about this:
“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself...That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”
I feel more naked with each published post.
The irony in this progression thrusts me into a grappling match: The possibility of winning someone over thrills me and the possibility of harsh, meaningless rejection from someone terrifies me. This dynamic is happening at the same time.
And I know - if I want to continue to grow as a writer - this duo will not cease to exist. Perhaps it will only grow more intense.
It's easy to manage the comments or emails that come in when somebody enjoys my work. Even constructive criticism is edifying. But when it comes to irrational maliciousness, I've sputtered along on how to manage. I feel as clumsy as a toddler after spinning on a merry-go-round when groundless censure makes a visit.
However, I found a story that has armed me to govern worthless criticism.
One day Buddha was traveling a tiny village. His journey had lead him to become a religious man, also known as a Brahman. He toured from town to town sharing his message. His words penetrated and he became well known. The people loved him.
As his follower-ship grew, the audience size of other Brahmans shrank.
One Brahman in particular, grew so furious that he searched for Buddha to confront him on the issue. With an anger in his eye, rage in his voice and envy in his heart, he said to the Buddha, "You have no right teaching others. You are as stupid as as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake!"
Buddha responded with a silent smile and allowed the man to blow more smoke from his ears.
This posture further agitated the man. "Why are you just sitting there smiling. Don't you have anything to say?"
The Buddha then said, "Tell me something, Brahman. Do you have friends, colleagues, relatives and kinsmen ever come to your home as guests?
"Well, of course," said the Brahman.
"And tell me something, Brahman. Do you serve them food when they arrive?"
"And tell me something else, Brahman," the Buddha continued. "If they don't accept them, to whom do those foods belong?"
"Well, I suppose if they don't eat the foods I offer, the foods are all mine."
"Yes. You are exactly correct," said the Buddha. "In the same way, Brahman, I do not accept your anger and your criticism. It's all yours."
The Brahman was stunned. Paralyzed. His pique grew stronger, but it had nowhere to be channeled - nobody would accept it.
Buddha continued. "If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. Your are then the only one who becomes unhappy. All you have done is hurt yourself. If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. I am neither eating the food you offer nor sharing your company, Brahman. It's all yours. It's all yours."
I once read that a third of the people will love us, a third will not care, and a third will dislike us. Sure, that's a broad and general assumption. But, it grounds us in the fact that we cannot win everyone over with our work. This ratio - even if it is not entirely accurate - helps me get over myself in aiming to satisfy everyone. Maybe that simple idea can help you too.
You and I will be running in our own lanes , and inevitably, a Brahman filled with ire will cross our paths.
At this juncture, we have a choice.
Will we eat or will we abstain?