I don’t consider myself to be someone who is often inspired by quotations. Sure, I like them, but I don’t feel the need to bring my lunch to work in a Lulu Lemon reusable bag, or put up posters in my apartment to remind me that the Buddha said many uplifting things. I do like retweeting quotations of famous writers, though. A guilty pleasure, of sorts.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this quotation by Ernest Hemmingway: “You must be prepared to work always without applause”. I like it. Hemmingway’s trite style of writing is poetic in its own right, and this quotation, for some reason, resonates with me. I printed it out, making sure that “always without applause” stands alone on the second line.
Working without applause seems futile. What use is there in producing a public good if the public doesn’t want, appreciate, or care for it? Posthumous praise only satisfies those who are clever enough to discover your work and set it into their contemporary context. But, then, there may be value in this, too.
I think that I’ve somehow become accustomed, expectant even, of immediate recognition and affirmation. I say “become” as if I remember a time before I was happy to work without having accolades befall my every achievement. I’d like to blame social media for this propensity toward admiration, but, I fear, it may be rooted elsewhere.
I’m a bit of a cock. I like it when people say nice things to me about me. Vanity. I think I’m vain or conceited.
Admittedly, I do feel envy. Much as I try to remain stoic about the success I witness and garner, I get jealous. Once I have accepted my jealousy, I try to understand what was done differently by those who I perceive to have reached success beyond my own. Often, the conclusion is the same: they put in the right amount and type of work, having made good decisions along the way.
When I think about how other people are successful because they get more readers on their blog, they have the job that I’ve been working for, they earn enough money from a single job, or they have a definable passion in life, amongst many other things, I feel a pang of envy. I feel somehow cheated by life. I feel some regret for the decisions I’ve made, and I come ’round to thinking about the “what ifs”.
Sometimes I come up with what I think are witty one-liners. This morning, for instance, I thought, “A successful person will often be seen walking backwards.” Here, I was thinking that failure is a major part of success, so I should take my failures as stepping stones toward my success.
This is how it goes in my head.
I think this all stems from being unsure of how to measure my own accomplishments without outside benchmarks. In order to “work always without applause”, you need to have confidence in the good of the end of the work that you are doing and find satisfaction in the work itself.
This blog, even though I haven’t been very good about it lately, is an example of this (I think). Keeping up this blog takes some energy and multiple ideas. Often, I find myself wondering about the value of maintaining this blog, especially when I consider the readership. When I ask some of my friends about this, they often tell me that I mustn’t discount the so-called “silent readership”. This, I’ve come to understand, is the group of people who do read your work but who remain private about their interactions with and reactions to it. For them, reading is like watching porn.
Sometimes, if not often, you may feel undervalued, and it may be hard to reconcile this with the perception you have of yourself as being valuable. But, people are watching because there is value imbued, by you, into the work, and they mightn’t be applauding because their hands are busy.