I recall, with some discomfort, a time in my life when I was painfully focused on how I was received by others. I recall simple moments when I made someone laugh quite unexpectedly, and then found myself feeling compelled to continue focusing on possible behaviours or witty statements to solicit more of the same. It took a long time for me to realise that it wasn’t just the laughter that I enjoyed, but the attention.
Being noticed for the same reasons we wish to be noticed is more addictive than any drug you’ll ever find. Ironically, it’s the absence of this validation that drives many to drugs to escape the reality of their insignificance, relative to their needs of course. But that’s not the point of this post. The eventual realisation of what I was getting from such experiences confirmed a painful truth that I only realised was painful much later on. I’m slow like that, fortunately so. It was the realisation that my self-worth, and therefore my actions, we’re largely defined by what I wanted from people rather than what I wanted to contribute.
Being driven by the fickleness of others is a good way to erode any sense of purpose or fulfilment in life. No wonder so many enter their twilight years feeling betrayed and bitter, and often disheartened at the thought of all that they didn’t achieve, or that they don’t have. That’s what being a whore to society does. It robs you of your dignity while you’re trying to appear dignified.
Against that backdrop, I always find it curious when I see people motivating themselves to improve themselves by tying such motivation to someone around them. They’re effectively saying that only if you do x for me, then only will I do the right thing for me. Stated differently, I’m improving myself so that you can be proud of me or accept me for the person I can be, but I’ll stop doing it if you’re not around, or if you reject me because then it’s not worth being a better me. In other words, you will be my carrot and my stick, without which I have no purpose in life.
When you’re focused on acceptance, you become a consumer. Consumers are good for the economy, but they’re rarely the beneficiaries. The same way they make businessmen richer while indulging in trinkets to distract themselves, needing validation makes the attention you receive the trinket that distracts you from being you. I’ve often heard, and said, that many people exist only, and then they die without having lived much at all. I now think that there is a fate worse than this. Many people live a life of subservience to others while fooling themselves into believing that they’re in fact serving humanity, or some other higher purpose. They’re the ones whose eyes light up when they’re showered with attention and affection but become almost entirely mute in its absence.
By design, fulfilment and purpose is only ever realised when we serve a cause greater than ourselves, or larger than our lives. Self indulgence is an insatiable cycle, even more so when we don’t realise that it’s our ego that we serve. Service to a higher calling is what connects us. No one ever connects with others when they’re focused on their own needs before anything else. Just because that pursuit of the self may appear sincere or subservient doesn’t suddenly make it meritorious. In fact, the more adept we are at disguising it, the more detrimental it is to our sense of self.
For me, beauty lies not in being attracted to those that accept me, but more in connecting with those that are passionate about the spheres that I hope to influence, or embrace. Anything else is simply a pacification of my unwillingness to accept my inability to influence change in the world around me.