Sadly, I succumbed to the Lure of Summer Vacation (June? well, I’ve had a stressful year so I deserve some time off… July? 31 days to get things done in, right?… OMG it’s AUGUST!! how can I possibly get everything done). So as I’ve scrambled to Get Things Done I’ve also had time to think about why I do things both professionally and personally, and why I blog about some of it and review books publicly and submit items to school bulletins (my alma mater, my previous places of work, whatever) and post on Facebook or Twitter. In other words, why have a public life? Why not just do things for the sake of doing them?
Because, honestly, what does it matter? This blog doesn’t have huge readership or generate many comments or links. I’m not going to be an L&J Mover or Shaker, and the time is long past for me to Emerge as a Leader. As I’ve pondered this, I’ve been remembering a guy I knew years ago, a coworker:
I spent a few months working for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, mostly working on the close-out of the restoration of Ellis Island. Because it was a joint venture between the Foundation and the National Park Service, there was a ton of paperwork and part of the close-out was to ensure that the paperwork got filed and archived in the right places (including at the architects/contractors). So I got to know the mailroom guy rather well. He was interesting… and I mean that euphemistically. For one thing, he was a huge sports fan. And by fan, I mean FAN. On the walls of the mailroom he would post the ticket stubs (with final score) for all the games (or matches) he’d attended during the season, removing them when the next year rolled around. His sports? Baseball… hockey… NCAA basketball… NBA basketball… there may have been one or two more, but I don’t remember exactly. He’d drive to the games, and if they were far enough away – say, Baltimore or Chicago – he’d sleep in his car either before or after the game (sometimes both) and then drive home.
One day he told me about his ex-fiance. I forget how they’d met, but after a while they took a vacation in Florida. The day they’d arrived was a semifinal (I think) for that year’s NCAA basketball tournament and he wanted to stay in the hotel room and listen to the game (this was pre-March Madness and hundreds of channels on tv; when he told me this story, it was pre-my having cable in NYC!) and – he didn’t understand it, even at this remove – she didn’t and was a little (ok, a lot) cranky about his wanting to do so. They broke up and years later his college basketball team defeated her college basketball team in the NCAA finals. He was convinced that she hadn’t contacted him because she was embarrassed by the loss. It came as a shock to him when I mentioned that it was far more likely that she wasn’t even aware of this crushing blow, given that she didn’t pay attention to the tournament when they were together and probably still didn’t
So, why the digression?
This story is a reminder to me that what’s important to me is probably completely off someone else’s radar. I can’t blog… or create a wonderful program… or win a trivia quiz… because I want someone else to notice. Malcolm Gladwell talks about destroying a great friendship, a college friend whose approval he wanted – one wonders if even now he doesn’t hope that what he’s done since then hasn’t impressed his former friend. A YA author I know was so impressed/in awe of a high school classmate (with whom she, and the school, had lost all contact) that she wrote a book with a character based on, and similarly named, this friend in hopes she’d reach out. We all have those people (a former friend or classmate, a distant family member, a former teacher) who we want to impress, whose approval we desire because – for what ever reason – they didn’t think highly of us or notice us before. Or, even worse, someone who denigrated or bullied or shamed you because, well, who cares why “because” decades later. It still rankles, right? However, the reality is, they’re probably not paying attention, they’re getting on with their life. The bullies, haters, people we put on a pedestal – they’ve moved beyond middle and high school and are getting on with their lives, not checking Google (or the alumni bulletin/local paper) for our doings.
It’s a difficult lesson to learn, that we need to do things for us and us only not for those icons whose notice we crave. This isn’t a speech I can easily give to my students, but it’s important for them to learn this now, as they’re starting out, rather than suffer a life of unfulfillment because that person doesn’t call, writer, text (or whatever form of communication we have in the future) to say, “You’re amazing!” We have to believe it ourselves, and do things because of us, not them.
It’s taken me years, but I’m there. And so when I blog, or update, it’s without regard for others approval, it’s a record for me – so I can see that I’m progressing and improving my practice. And if others care, well, that’s nice, too.