I’m Nobody! Who are you?
by Emily Dickinson
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Probably the biggest message we have to get across in our life is who we are and what we’re about. But I hadn’t thought about it much until seeing Sally Hogshead‘s blogpost today.
Today on the Hogblog, she posted a video about how most of us were raised with the idea that ‘the best wins’. Yet now, we live in an era of 9 second attention spans, and being the best and hoping attention, success, notoreity, and prosperity ‘will come a-knockin’ ” is naive. We may deserve it, we may be the best, but that’s not enough. Truthfully, it never has been. Just go back a century or 2 for famous examples.
Emily Dickinson (author of the above poem) and Van Gogh. Infamous names, highly revered bodies of work, and neither of them ever saw acclaim in their lifetime. They lived and died in the 1800s–simpler times, smaller populations. They were each introverted and social outcasts. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life, and Dickinson had a few published works, but compared to the volume created it was not much at all. It took their deaths, someone else’s discovery, and subsequent release of their body of work for any real judgement and notoriety to even begin.
Almost 200 years later, today’s artists (all of us) live in a substantially more crowded world. Do any of the living really want a tragic stereotypical artists fate–all the money is made AFTER you’re dead, by someone else? I seriously doubt it.
Let’s say you had manuscripts or art hidden away in your apartment, house, or a storage unit. Would anyone find it, or take the time to hunt for it if you suddenly perished? if they don’t know it exists, who would bother to look other than the executor of your will? Not everyone writes a will before their time is up, either. If ever there was a time to die in assured obscurity, your best lost unless you take a risk and share it, it’s now.
What is your life’s work worth to you? What is mine worth to me? Is it how you want to be remembered for eternity?
If our life’s work means anything to us, then keeping it to ourselves makes little sense today or tomorrow. It also makes little sense to hide it by default because we suck at self-promotion. If we as individuals will occur again as the person we are now, we owe it ourselves to share what we create. No matter how insecure, self-critical, self-concious, introverted, shy, meek, or all of the above we might be.
‘Notice I say we. I can’t say I have all the answers about self-promotion, or even that I rock at it. I’ve just learned its importance the hard way.
I think Hogshead has a lot of good ideas and why not? She worked in advertising, a field I studied but never could break into as a designer. I am highly creative, but the gift of gab is not mine. At the time in my early 20s, I mistakenly thought my portfolio would do the talking. I mean, how seriously would I be taken if I had a big ego? Boastful self-selling I could do would come across as transparent and ridiculous. Would you believe a fresh grad who made false guarantees about what their work would do for you? I wouldn’t. Not to mention a lot of ‘Ad-vice’ books said not to brag or have an ego or your resume will be trashed for sure. So I felt justified in relying more on my portfolio, answering questions I was asked, and being a nice person. Apparently my samples weren’t bad, but they weren’t fascinating either, and I was a forgettable interview. I would probably be better remembered if my work sucked.
It’s worth asking ourselves: Are we the best? Are we the worst? Are we mediocre? Do we want to be the best? We’ll never know if we don’t release work and promote it.
Thankfully getting content out there has never been easier, the only thing holding us back is ourselves. We also live in the age of Beta release, so the cataclysmic, career-killing disaster we all fear happening is unlikely. There’s too much else going on to pay attention to one person for that long. You can always rework, retool, rec-create, and re-release.
Hogshead has an interesting quiz on finding your unique fascination trigger blend, and a program on how to hone those triggers and be more fascinating in everything you do. See her website for more info. She regularly posts presentation excerpts on Facebook as well.