If you have 'it', do yu need to talk about it so they know you got it?
This is part four of a four part series on influence. What it does, how we use it, and what it does and what that means. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, might be interesting for someone who doesn't get this newsletter yet. Screenshot away. This is the overdue finale.
I had a strong plan for this newsletter, which should have happened two weeks ago. It was fuego. Research is an art that allows distance because you can sift through reams of information and pick out what you are looking for. With practice and precision, you elucidate thoughts clearly and deliberately. I enjoy that process immensely. It’s what made me almost complete several PhD applications many moons ago. Almost. That ceases to be possible when you become the research you're doing. It's me. I’m the footnote.
I took a new job in a new place and I'm still figuring it out. As part of that job, I have to do more public things in a more pronounced way, more consistently, than I have had to do.
So I sent a tweet out because I had a new job, I have to hire across 2020, and I actually would only be telling the facts about what it is that I am doing. Light work. Until it wasn’t. Immediately following what was a simple and standard internet activity.
I was bedridden for 24 hours following my own announcement. The last time I was rendered that immovable I had UPN was dominating the ratings, and Sega Dreamcast was the pinnacle of technological advancement. I thought I was having an allergic reaction, to something. I was, except the something was myself. Rather, this new reality that I had sequestered myself from.
1. What is my own relationship with influence (the kind I have and what it means)?
Why do I like thinking about influence, but shy away from managing my own?
3. What was my mind doing to make me think this was protecting me?
We’ll focus on the first two because the 3rd is another email for another time.
Perhaps, the most dangerous thing you might face as a polymath doesn’t happen until you start getting appreciated for one of the multitudes you have. The trap that I have been unsuccessful at avoiding is the assertion that being noticed for your intelligence is the same thing as being seen as equal because of it. That’s why we hide. The fear of being seeing for the immensity outweighs the ease of just exhibiting a small portion that you can control.
Most people with a public persona tell you that the downsides outweigh the upsides. They have a target on their back from critics. They have less creative freedom. They feel irresponsible when they turn down opportunities because they know other people would kill for the chance. It’s not all bad of course, but there are real problems that go along with fame and fortune.
- Ryan Holiday
If your reason for being quiet is simply not to be like them, you are living a lie of convenience. Worse, it is an insidious kind of selfishness. I know, because I have embraced it much longer than anyone I know. People who do deep work often spend time avoiding who they don't want to be, and don't necessarily work on more of who they are trying to become. Both are important models, but they work in conjunction. If you lean too heavily on one side, you can become obsessive without direction. The same intensity that can create a space for you, can also hollow you out.
The moment your status changes in any visible capacity, friction enters the equation. You aren’t simply just doing your work; you are managing the external reality that was previously only internal. Your velocity outpaces everything around you, because you are breaking free. It's exhilarating and terrifying. I tended to focus on terror because I often think I can solve it more easily than anything else. If not solve, at least survive it long enough to find a makeshift operating structure that allows me to get by. The issue is that it followed me for so long, I befriended it. It helped me cope with the survivorship bias; the weighted blanket forced upon you when you "make it". That is to say, ascend past the mean, and arrive at a place that's wholly unfamiliar to you, and seemingly aspirational to others. It’s kind of like the Delta lounge; you didn't do something extraordinary to get in, but since you're there, you can investigate the assorted dips, and use the less terrible.
Accountability acts as a lubricant; it allows things that would normally be at odds to engage with each other. It is a lie to believe influence escapes you because you do not want it. For some, it is not a choice they had to make. You can very well be born into a space that has it built-in. Other times you amass it slowly for what you say and what you. Sometimes, it is just you doing the things that you do, and the dubious recognition of being the only one hangs ever-present.
I do not mean that there should not incorporate silence, periods of focus, research, and unmitigated glee. On the contrary. I am actively looking to find more as they are necessary for life. We bribe our inner child with the distraction of safety, and stunt their creative growth. Then, we have the nerve to shame them for not being more “productive”. We’d rather silence them than let them play, then wonder why they don’t want to come outside anymore. Growing up isn’t the worst thing; finding reasons to not see the world with childlike wonder is far more dangerous I wonder if its arrogance or pure fantasy that creates the false equivalency that I don't have to share what I'm doing and that people will simply just find it anyway. How would they know what to look for? Why would I make them?
But the biggest failures aren’t things you did. They’re things you didn’t do. Playing it safe is one of the biggest failures possible.
As the complexity increases, a peer set becomes harder to find. Not simply people who think like you, but those who willingly choose to think, regardless of.
The conundrum of choosing to remain curious is that you create much more distance for yourself to do the work you want to do because you aren't consumed by simply doing what has already been done. It's no surprise that it happens until it happens to you.
Exposure left me traumatized, the same way unprocessed film exposed to undue heat becomes perishable. With too much of it, the latent image erodes, and the color balance erodes. .I needed a darkroom for myself, so I built one. Then I decided to never leave. That's why I don't like looking back at the reference points other people have for me. They see what they are able to. Most of what they see clearly about me is blurry to myself. I thought this was an issue of confidence, but it is much deeper than that. It is not so much that I do not think I can't be what they assume I am; it's more that I know the very real costs of what that means and have spent time not trying to ever be in that conversation, you are placed there anyway.
The Fear of Expansion
Or maybe you know you're good, you just don't think you can do this thing in front of those people and be consistent for that long. You play the background because you know the pieces of the puzzle, but not where they all go. We keep things close to our chest, not because we don't want to share. But because we want what we do to start close to our hearts, then expand. As it grows, the heartbeat never changes. We know it’s alive because you held it before it grew the strength to walk. That’s why the project you don’t let go of, is the one that haunts you in your mind before you let it go on paper.
The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.
- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I don't want to be seen. I want to be felt. But the latter is sometimes a pathway to the former. It doesn't cancel you out. It is not as zero-sum as we can make it. Disquieting and uncomfortable, it often bears resemblance to the other things that help enable growth. If you do have influence, and you know it, you are also aware that awareness about you isn't about control. It is about what you decide to push forward because you have the leverage to do so.
The most dangerous space for me is to noodle in the abstract as an excuse to not be grounded in the present. There is no way for me to predict or place sound judgment on what I might like. I've wordsmithed myself out of my own work, then found reasons why it isn’t up to par. It’s not imposter syndrome if you know you are that person. It’s actually just avoidance because it’s easier to try and get to it another time.
It was never just about being private for the sake of avoidance. It can start off that way, but it usually morphs into the need that is universal; to be seen outside of the image that might be cast and understood in spite of everything around you that says otherwise. The paradox for me has been that I might believe my surroundings because I am most susceptible to the It is often about maintaining space for the sacred, whatever that may be, and for whatever reason. The quirky, the unseen, the divergent, and the weird are the prized frameworks to someone who has more in them than they might know but needs time to see it come to fruition.
I still have aims on being notoriously private about a select number of things, but not everything. Perhaps that's a more useful pursuit than expending energy trying to simply remain fully invisible. The right things should be in plain view. Those can double as things that also stand the test of time.