January 15, 2011
thinking – self…ish
Not long ago, I was told I was selfish. It was the sort of conversation I’d rather not engage in, so I didn’t respond at the time. Since then, that comment has provoked a cascade of thoughts that reflect on what it really means to pursue my dreams.
As an insult, being called selfish is relatively easily absorbed. I’ve always admitted that I am self-absorbed, I always have been. As a homeschooled child I spent a lot of time on my own, left to pursue my own interests, and it prepared me for a career that is very solitary indeed. Independence has always been a determining factor in what I do, personally and professionally. I am self employed and childless, by preference and by nature. You could say that all of these things are by choice, and they are, but in another sense, I never chose to be the person that I am. Like everyone else, I am a mess of traits, some better and some worse.
One of the things that fascinates me endlessly is learning about the lives and careers of other creative people, especially in fashion. How do people make a living in such a precarious business? What separates the people who become legends from those who just make a living? Why are some remembered and some forgotten? For every career trajectory, and they are all different, there is something that all creative people share in common – ego. To me the definition of an artist is the need to express, a need so compelling that artists are willing to sacrifice a lot in order to realize their vision. Being driven to express yourself is not usually altruistic – it is not a service, it is not helpful or useful, it doesn’t save lives. In fact, the creative ego can be a liability, sometimes making it very difficult to have what most people would consider a well-balanced and happy life. The fact is all creative arenas are so fiercely competitive, in order to achieve even modest success, you have to look out for yourself and your interests first. That is just the way it is.
Of all creative pursuits, personality blogging in particular is often criticized for being very selfish. A website full of pictures of yourself and things that you like, and your own thoughts, and the things that you make? The bald ambition of seeking an audience is particularly apparent in this medium. Like many people who’ve been blogging for a significant period of time, I’ve struggled with the notion that what I am doing is so self-centered, and at worst, self-aggrandizing. On closer reflection, though, the experience of personal blogging has had some very counterintuitive results.
Weirdly, many of my most popular posts are posts I would consider to be very self-indulgent. Posts full of “I” and my innermost thoughts and feelings. From the outside, this seems incredibly selfish. Not only is it all me-me-me, I’m being rewarded with attention for it! At a slightly deeper level though, it is an act of sharing. Especially when I reveal my own vulnerabilities, when I am candid and flawed, people feel compelled to respond and connect.
Critics of personal bloggers fail to see the aspect of sharing for being as generous as it is. Putting yourself out there for scrutiny is not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of effort and the rewards are very ephemeral. Bloggers aren’t foisting themselves, unwanted, on a captive audience. The internet has a zillion possible pages that anyone could be reading, the act of giving attention to a blogger is incredibly voluntary. It may not be the most altruistic pastime, true, but it is also utterly harmless. Often, the effects are positive – people make and read blogs because the net results are enjoyable. Ironically, it is often people who are secretive with their ideas and distrustful of the internet, who accuse bloggers of being selfish. I have met a lot of bloggers, and far from being insufferable, they are usually open-minded, helpful, curious, generous people, who are very willing to share experiences, contacts and opportunities.
A final thought on the upside of being “selfish”. We live in an age where it is possible to do almost anything. Dream it, and do it. If you’re going to pursue your dreams, you have to be selfish. After all, they are your dreams and not anyone else’s.