My mom used to say, “We’re on each other’s minds a lot less often than we think we are. While you’re worried about what people think of you, they’re worried about what other people think of THEM.”
Mom was so right. Especially in this social media, selfie-driven age. Where you used to go through the world trying to figure out what the people in your immediate vicinity thought of you, now we wake up and check our phones for thumbs up or thumbs down from an entire world.
Think about that symbolism for a moment. We’re taught that the thumbs up or down was used by Roman emperors to declare whether someone lived or died (not sure if it’s accurate, but for sure it’s what I was taught). Having incorporated those symbols into social media means that we’re not just saying, “I like this,” or, “I don’t like this.” We’re passing judgement on each other. Letting other people declare whether or not we are worthy. Which is why involvement with social media isn’t a good predictor of happiness.
Increasingly, we’re not even bothering to hit “like.” It takes less than a second to do, but now even that often seems like too much trouble. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me in person they really like what I do — and yet they don’t bother to literally “like” it online, or share it. Which can make creating feel like yelling into the abyss — you’re shocked when you hear a response. And yet, there is good news in this, for creators.
Take Twitter. Writers are constantly told we must “build platforms” and increase our “social media presence.” Which can lead to having 2,000 followers, most of whom don’t actually follow what you do, in the sense of paying attention to it. They’re other writers or artists following you so you’ll follow them so it’ll look like you have a lot of followers, yet how many of those followers are truly engaged? One really engaged follower beats 100 (or more) courtesy followers.
Where’s the good news? In creative freedom. You can stop reading tea leaves, casting chicken bones, and otherwise trying to figure out what other people think of you, or what you do. The idea that you actually know, based on numbers of followers, etc., is an illusion.
Do what you do. Create the best version of what you do that you can. Experiment. Learn your craft. Try things, get some wrong, learn from the process. Edit, refine, examine and re-examine. Show the world as much or as little of all that as you choose. Be brave. Wallow, flail, find and develop your stroke, and learn to swim.
In time, you may find your tribe, the people who get what you’re doing and enjoy it. Meantime, at least you’ll be enjoying it.
And if you really want to be a Patron of the Arts, bother to hit “like” occasionally. Comment now and then. Share the stuff you like. Don’t just flood feeds with automatic retweets… make your opinion count by sharing what speaks to you and saying that it does (and even why). Be engaged.
That, by the way, really is a good predictor of happiness — how engaged you are with people and the world around you.