I started this post over 5 hours ago.
At first, it was like a Throwback Thursday post, taking a look at one of my old LiveJournal posts, updating it, commenting on the context of it and drawing forth a lesson learned. But the only problem with looking back is that sometimes, often times the reality hits you.
And for that post, it was the reality of displaying my lack of awareness of now-obvious red flags I saw in a capped “Master” in our community. But then I noticed not only some subtle victim blaming language but the potential to stir up old traumas that the local kink community is still healing from. I noticed some curious flaws about my own self-aggrandizement that exposes me in a way that is far more vulnerable than I would like. I imagined all the people who would either bury me in mockery or expose a subtle victim-blamey thing I wrote as evidence that I’m a fraud not to be believed.
That reality was too much to stomach, so I moved on.
I started another post. Same concept but this time it was on my very first blog post ever. This time about motherhood. Safe, nice topic, right? Nope. The post made me look like a resentful mother. A selfish woman bitter with being saddled with a kid. I started writing defensively (or writing like an attorney, if you rather). I was trying to justify why I would write such horrible things about my experience of motherhood. I imagined all the mommy blogs that would be in an uproar and would question my fitness as a mother.
So, I abandoned that post too.
I then start another post. This time one about the spiritual aspect of my calling. But then I started hearing the critique in the back of my head, the whispers of “attention whore” and I just devolved into a pit of anxiety and fear, having finished nothing tonight.
The Root Cause.
The past hour has been a silent scream of “release me from my writer’s block”. Feeling an invisible pressure to produce some content, I’ve been almost overrun with ideas, but no confidence in my potential execution of those ideas. They’re all bottlenecked in the space where courage combines with words to express ideas. And because this site is far more personal narrative than “sex education”, I likewise, get worried I”m not providing the right content that people actually want to read.
There are a lot of bloggers out there who do this thing better than I do.
See, this is the actual problem. At the root of this all this anxiety is this double dose of insecurity offered as fact:
a) a lot of other bloggers out there
b) do this thing better than I do.
Immediately I’m hit with waves of emotion: shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, envy, powerlessness, and holy shit, so much fear. They just cascade through my body in these well-worn grooves, cutting a path through my spirit, fracturing the sparkling confidence I want to have.
That self-shaming thought offered up as damning evidence of my evident and likely failure is my primary nemesis. We’ve battled this out over the years. This voice tells me everyone is going to hate me, that I’m never good enough, that I’m not yet deserving. This nemesis knows exactly what to say to get me to back down, to back away from my dreams.
And it almost worked this time.
We are All Attention Whores.
Let’s leave the pejorative alone for a moment. Can we just admit that it feels good to get attention?
- As children, we sought the smile or laughter of our parents.
- As adolescents, we seek the approval and companionship of friends.
- As adults, we seek recognition from bosses and co-workers and respond to the acceptance and connection of lovers.
Attention isn’t a dirty word. It’s a healthy and necessary part of trust and companionship. We have different ways of expressing it and giving it, and there are certainly distorted ways to pursue and siphon it.
But the attention we most crave is acceptance and respect, both of which are about being seen and heard as a human being. It’s about knowing that someone is paying attention to what you think, feel and need.
Attention has also been used as a form of social capital. But now we digitally measure, value, and commodify it in the form of likes, clicks, and trackbacks. Attention is no longer a matter of mere perception. It is now a measurable fact. And let’s face it, the more likes something has, the more likely we are to share it, trust it and value it.
But attention is distorted when paired with judgment, cruelty, and ignorance. And each day, the old, overripe opinions of others are thrown at us with an unbearable velocity. This constant hailstorm of poor opinions, whether in our own lives or our political reality, has created an environment where opinions matter more than facts. We live in a world where individual perception matters more than collective reason and where personal choices and narratives are subject to a vote and a barrage of unsolicited advice and petulant “well, actuallys”.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having opinions or even sharing those opinions, but now we’re sharing with the immediate accessibility that is difficult for the normal human to bear. It isn’t just one critic or one tacky review, it’s a cascade of cruelty denouncing your love of the new Ghostbusters movie or boycotting a celebrity or a coffee company because of their stance on gun control. It’s the woman who calls me a fat slut because I spoke out against Trump or the guy who told my kid over voice chat that he should kill himself because he sucks at playing Hanzo in Overwatch (doesn’t everyone suck playing as Hanzo?).
The numbers now tell us how many people agreed with that particular opinion. It’s an immediate vote counter, a barometer of just how many people think you suck, how much attention you’ve gained or lost, making any positive or negative outcome seem righteous and deserving. Get enough downloads, get enough likes, get enough engagements and you’ll be crowned the winner of humanity.
The fears I have, the voices of self-doubt that have always been with me are amplified every time I see someone I admire get torn down for who they are, for the beautiful perspective they add to the world, for the very things that make them just as valuable as the rest of us. Those feelings are amplified when I see the walls crawling with every judgmental, shaming and cruel comment we can imagine. It makes it feel like anything we say or do will be scrutinized to death, regurgitated with each subsequent failure or mistake that we made and ultimately we’ll be rejected and deprived of the acceptance that our emotional lives need to stay afloat.
Ultimately, it’s not my job to please you.
In the past year or so I’ve been embracing the idea that I’m not responsible for pleasing everyone all the time. I’m not responsible for making sure everyone likes me, nor would that ever be realistic. There are just some people who won’t resonate with what I have to say. There are others who will think I’m a bigger deal than I really am.
I AM responsible for being honest and ethical in my choices and dealings with others. However, I am not responsible for making sure everyone else is happy about everything that I’m doing. No matter how many factors I take into consideration, there will always be someone who is unhappy.
In my meditations over the past year or so a huge message just keeps coming through: My dreams will come true when I finally start to live my own life, instead of the one I know others expect of me. And while my mom would tell you that I’m just going to do everything the Janet-way anyway, you can bet that it is still heavily influenced by what I’ve learned of what is acceptable to others and what is not. I live in a constant dance of mitigating harms, juggling too many responsibilities and ultimately feeling guilty whenever I need time to myself to find my inner peace again.
And that conflict of accumulated guilt comes through in my writing. It comes through when I’m pre-emptively defensive over my choices. It comes through when I’m writing to make sure no one gets pissed off at me. It comes through when I hold off on a post because I’m afraid it isn’t perfect enough yet.
It will never, ever be perfect; nor should it be.
The harsh truth is that how I live my life, how I express myself in my writing, what I choose to do or who I share my life with is none of anyone’s business unless I have a legal or emotional commitment/duty to them. Each person has a choice whether to consume what I post or to move on. They have a choice of whether to interact or stay quiet. They have a choice in what words to use with me, what energy they want to direct toward me. I cannot anticipate or control each person’s reactions to me or the choices they will make based on those reactions. And I need to stop second-guessing their motives and accept that what I’m shown is what they intend to show me.
Likewise, I have a choice of what opinions I will allow in my life. The life I want, the life I already have is so rich and full of goodness, that I don’t have space to store and maintain the faulty opinions of others. Many people who go out of their way to interrupt my life with their opinions aren’t interested in connecting, they’re more interested in being right, in being heard, in being recognized for how right they are. I will never find approval or acceptance with them–our motivations simply don’t align–so their opinion isn’t something I need to carry with me past that moment.
This allows me to gradually detach myself from the responsibility of caring for the opinions of others. Allowing myself that distance has given me more space for compassionate observation. I’ve been finding immense freedom as I give less of my energy to the anticipated criticisms, harsh judgments, and the crushing gravity of others’ ideas about my life, my body, and my choices. Instead, I note the reaction, the responses and remind myself that not everything is truly about me.
I am giving myself permission to live my life by my terms, to experience my brightest joys, and to follow the dreams of my highest self. And to do so free of the weight of others’ opinions.