A place for a

02.12.2016

How the need for validation can hijack our passions

When we first had Latin at school, 7th grade or so, I absolutely loved it. I ate that shit up. All others were like Meh, but I devoured it. Latin homework was always the thing I looked forward to doing. I learned all the vocabulary and delved into the grammar. The subject was utterly fascinating to me.

Predictably, I got very good grades. I was by far the best student in Latin. I was so good that when we had a translation exam, I wrote two different, ehm, let’s call them interpretations and passed one around secretly for the others to copy, which led to a funny situation once or twice, because the interpretations I passed around were always my second choices and not the ideal translations.

Now, here’s a short overview over the grade system in Germany. We have grades ranging from 1 to 6, 1 being the best. They are titled like this:

  1. Very Good
  2. Good
  3. Satisfactory
  4. Sufficient
  5. Lacking
  6. Insufficient

You usually need at least a 4 on average to pass the school year. In Latin, I always had a stellar 1.

Now, I was generally a good student and by the end of that year, I was proposed to change to a different school that would be more challenging.

I accepted.

“Downfall”

When I started out at the new school, with it came a switch to a new Latin textbook, based on a different textbook series that I had learned from.

Suddenly, there was a lot of vocabulary I didn’t know and some grammar I didn’t understand. It was different enough for me to fall to something like a grade 3, I think.

And once that happened, I suddenly lost all the drive. I was utterly disappointed and felt useless about myself. Formerly I had been the best student and now I was average at best. I realized it would be extremely hard to reach the same level of proficiency with the new textbook as I had with the old one.

Now, had I originally started with the other textbook, I am sure I would have been just as good with it. But catching up with an entire year of knowledge?

Well, let’s just say I gave up and lost all my love for the subject.

Why?

I think it’s because somewhere along the way, I had forgotten how much I loved the language and had fallen in love with being the best Latin student instead. My love for the subject transformed into a love for validation. In a sense, my love became hollow. And once I no longer got the validation, the love was gone.

And by the end of the 10th school year, I almost failed to graduate due to Latin, with a 4, borderline 5, grade.

Is passion always in the service for others?

Now, one interpretation of the whole thing could be that we as humans are ultimately what some call social creatures. That validation and doing something selflessly for the community is more important to us than evil selfish interest.

But personally I think it was insecurity that was partly already a very strong component in my personality and that school managed to reinforce.

I have experienced this a couple times in my life with other hobbies of mine. I have experienced it with photography, video production and music.

The moment I started getting validation for what I did, something always changed. It was as if the love of the subject was no longer my own, but suddenly belonged to my teachers/critics and I was merely a slave tasked with fulfilling their expectations about my performance in the subject.

As a result, I always became less self-driven, less motivated, less creative and my work became robotic and boring. I even lost the joy in doing it.

In fact, weirdly, what kept me going was not the joy itself I had experienced at the beginning. It was the memory of that joy. I thought: Well I loved doing this and had great joy with it. Surely I still love doing it and still find joy in it.

But that joy had come organically, from giving myself to the subject and the subject giving itself to me, without obligations, without expectations. There was a flow, a relationship, a mutual seduction. But once I learned I could get validation from doing it, it shifted. Suddenly, there were expectations. I could no longer innocently give myself to the subject, as my head was filled with other people’s ideas about how I should go after that passion of mine.

And the relationship would turn into a process. The passion would turn into a pursuit of a goal I did not really care about, but did not dare not caring about.

And so, whenever I would have an intuitive idea, my mind would respond: Is that the right way to do it? Will that give me the same validation from others as before?

This paralyzed me to the extent that I was more or less rendered unable to even act on any creative impulse. I had ideas, but whenever an idea came up, I immediately scrutinized and killed it.

In a strange way, I had a terrible fear of disappointing those who formerly praised me. How weird! I thought: Well, my last work brought them joy and now they expect to get that joy again and I mustn’t disappoint them.

The pursuit of uniqueness

Maybe this is why many famous artists end up doing one good thing and then spend the rest of their career copying that first good thing, getting more boring and predictable with every time.

So ironically, the more your try to get that validation, the less you actually get it. Like game, eh?

Now, as I said, I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of those people. They meant well by validating me. But my insecurity made it impossible for me to just accept praise and then move on with my passion.

In recent years, this has actually led me to hating praise. Yes, I hate praise. I don’t want people telling me I did something well. Why? Because I want the thing to still to belong to me. I don’t want my love for something to become a slave to those who liked my work.

So what did my brain come up with as a solution? Something very strange. Whenever someone praises me, I immediately think to myself: Okay, I did something wrong. I don’t want anyone to openly agree with me, as then this expression no longer belongs to myself.

So whenever someone would agree with something I wholeheartedly embraced before, I would then reject that thing just because someone agreed with it. As if … if there is someone wielding that idea with more confidence than I, I can no longer wield it with confidence. So I need to change. I need to become more special. More unique. More abstract and more otherworldly weird to the point that nobody will be able to fully agree with me anymore.

As in the quote by Groucho Marx:

I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.

The moment someone accepts me as I am, I lose my identity and my ideas about a subject (and myself) start conforming to other people’s ideas about this subject. And that I cannot allow. As if, once someone agrees with me, I can no longer think freely, as it could mean that this agreement could break. So it’s better to break the agreement deliberately.

Well, I guess I’ll get over this when I become more confident in myself. But then, I kinda see it in others too, if to a lesser extent. People who love photography start being obsessed with following the rules, criticizing everything through the lens of some abstract ideals that are not even their own. They lose their creative spark.

Rule-followers with hubris

I also once used to do concert videos for bands. Since I needed many camera operators, I asked some other guys to help me out. And whom did I ask? Professionals? No. I asked guys who never had anything much to do with video. And guess what? Their work would be cool. Unpredictable, but at the same time organic and real. Meanwhile, whenever I worked with someone who considered himself a professional or considered videos as his job, I was usually disappointed. Their work was boring. It was technically good, it followed the rules, but it was soulless. Those people would become obsessed with doing accurate lightingpulling the focus correctly, etc etc. They would get so caught up in technicalities that they would completely forget that they are doing creative work that requires them to be in the moment.

And those people, often students of film, would tell me how my procedure was incorrect. How I needed to do this or that differently, because that is how they learned it. They would tell me I can’t just use multiple cameras to film something if I don’t have a timecode generator to synchronize all cameras. Meanwhile, I simply synchronized all videos by their audio waveform. The result was perfect, and yet they would say you can’t do that.

And I would look at those people and think to myself: Wtf dude. You haven’t produced any cool video of value in your life and you never had a real passion about the subject, and yet you are the one telling me how to do it because you took a class?

Conclusion

So it’s not just game, dear friends, that is affected by analysis paralysis. It’s a real thing that pervades every aspect of life. Once you start being obsessed with how to do it right is the moment you stop doing cool work, or in the very least, you lose the joy you once had doing it.

But now of course, me telling someone You need to be more creative is in itself totally contra-productive, making my protest against rule-following lead to another form of rule-following. So whenever I worked with someone in video, I never told them how to do it. I told them: Do it how it feels right to you.

The most authentic work doesn’t come from telling people to be authentic. It comes from telling them to do as they wish to do it. Hell, I mean, maybe even rule following can lead to authentic results, right? How could a rule-follower be authentic if he pretended not to care about rules? And surely there are shades of grey and even healthy combinations between a rule follower and a so-called authentic person.

Actually, I am lying. I did give them instructions – I told them to not shut off the camera while filming.

Hey, funnily, regarding game. I once telephoned with a girl I was into. I started jerking off while speaking with her and told her so. She told me to tell her what I am imagining. And she told me: You can’t do it wrong. Gotta say it was a pretty hard struggle for me to be honest and I was so anxious in fact I almost lost my boner and my voice became dry and robotic while I forced myself to tell her what I imagined doing to her. But I did my best, heh. She ended up saying I had been more honest than most men, considering it was the first time I did that. And that’s me being as fucked up as I am, with all those crippling fears. Funny how it can be a challenge to be yourself.

Btw, here’s the last concert video I ever filmed, back in 2011. I never had a formal education in video.

Peace.

1 vote
  • bem

    Good article.
    “analysis paralysis”…….So that’s what it’s called. I allowed this very
    phenomenon to kill the youthful talent I once had for writing. And to a degree, its development followed the path you’ve described for your Latin career.
    In the back of my mind I became so obsessed with the reaction to whatever I did that the work itself became contaminated. It became impossible to think without instantaneous analysis/criticism/accolades/etc drowning out the work before it was even formed.

    • Yup. Not sure what the solution is yet … meditation seems to help some.

      • bem

        I should give that a shot.

      • Mikey Mike

        Prison. lol
        Closed Prison.. I spent a while there. I compared it to a Monastry. “Everybody” had shaved heads and we spent like 22 hours in our cells 3 days a week.

  • one interpretation of the whole thing could be that we as humans are ultimately what some call social creatures. That validation and doing something selflessly for the community is more important to us than evil selfish interest.

    Society’s war on ‘evil’ selfishness is a religious corruption of logic. In a perfect world, everyone would be shamelessly selfish, and therefore humane. There is no advantage to be gained by needing to harm others, when you hurt someone else, you are not being selfish as you’re only hurting yourself.

    Doing something for the community should be a very selfish pursuit, helping others should be the defintion of selfish behaviour. But in a world literally choking on illusory need, the Self-less victims of their mothers obliteration of Self perceive motive very differently.

    • True. Your definition of selfishness reminds me of Ayn Rand’s. Always made sense to me.

      • Karolina Nowicka

        Some people just don’t understand Rand. They think she’s against helping others.

        • Ideologies tend to be better than we give them credit for when observed from a negative perspective. That said, ideologies are usually stupid either way.

          • Karolina Nowicka

            Agreed.

  • Jim Johnson

    Good article, this concept is very apparent in the alpha/beta relationship with a girl. Of course you should treat her right. But, if you are sucking up to receive validation, not only are you losing your passion in life, you are showing desperation and you lose any validation you had.

  • Jim Trompe

    When they look at happiness, goals usually arent what make you happy, artistry does, community service does. A lottery winner and a parapalegic are about the same happiness after a year. Humans are the social animal, but that society has been breaking up. So did you ever try any of the things I suggested for tracking and getting your heart rate down?

    • Tracking? Oh yeah, you mentioned something. No, probably not. I am focusing on meditation right now, but thanks for the concern.

  • Karolina Nowicka

    I am very sorry to say that but… that’s the best article I have read on this blog. How very true. We are insecure and fragile, we lose our passions and submit ourselves to others’ wishes without even realizing that. Recently I have been so preoccupied with seeking advise how to raise a happy boy that I forgot that once I didn’t need to read anything about it. But then I thought that I MUST gain more information, otherwise I’ll fail… Stupid?

    I don’t agree with your solution though, I’d rather keep my passion to myself. At least until I become more confident.

    • Bitches always being sorry about something, yawn.

      I don’t think I proposed a solution. I just said what I tried to do as a teacher.

      • Karolina Nowicka

        I forgot how much you hate women. :)

  • Dano

    If I told you I love Love LOVE this article since I can relate to it so well, would you regard it as un-authentic and therefore, terrible?
    Because i do love Love LOVE this post.

    I love art and creative writing- but I chose to major in biomedical engineering only because I didn’t want to spend 4 years having people telling me what to do in subjects I was passionate about. I ended up choosing the major I liked the least (It was a rather impulsive decision, I wonder why…)
    Maybe I wanted to major in something where people didn’t expect anything from me.

    • Dano

      Eww just thinking about being in a room full of “art majors” makes me cringe. I hate when people think they are talented in something when they’re clearly just following a set of rules anybody can do.

      • Write me a song about it.

        • Dano

          “I HATE that you talk to me
          about your passions
          as if I care.

          I HATE when you try to reach to me
          as if we are on the same level
          of talent.

          I HATE that you try to see yourself
          in my eyes
          when mine are obviously brighter.

          I HATE how you tell people about your achievements
          when they’re nothing to be proud of

          Because you will always be
          the shadow of society

          when I’m the sun
          that lights it.”

          • Dano

            lame af but this is what i think when I look at a certain “acquaintance” of mine

          • Lame af because it doesn’t rhyme. I’m a sucker for rhymes.

          • Dano

            From her mind grew
            orchids and fields of green
            hidden beings
            unordered things
            a realm unknown, unseen

            the mind grew in silence
            as she feigned to be a rose
            peachy nose
            between meadows
            with a poison no-rose knowns

            skies had southern suns
            visit time-to-time
            and the surrounding weeds stretched up
            to touch the blight sunshine

            and so weeds cried in joy
            as they glew beneath the suns
            and laughed and kissed and cried
            for beautiful, they’ve become

            but at night they were so very ugly
            still they inclosed the rose
            saying “aren’t we so pretty
            we’re the gems of the meadows”

            but never did the rose care for
            the meadows, the suns, the rain
            still she blushed and said
            of course, it’s beauty you’ve attained

            still night falls over and over
            and the skies grew dark and blue
            as the rose laughed beneath the dirt
            at those who thought her true

            sadly she doesn’t know,
            what her insides have become
            hiding from the rain
            hiding from the suns
            laughing in the dirt
            her petals fall one-by-one

          • Nice. A little girly, but that is to be expected.

    • To be honest, I don’t give a fuck whether you’re “authentic”.

      • Dano

        To be honest, I’m not “authentic”.
        I’m a loser who can no longer draw or write because I want to be authentic- but I’m not… i relate this back to your article ” a vision from a weird kind of hell”. when i pick up a pencil, I blast some emotional music and let it dictate how I feel. If it’s a sad song, I’ll draw my misery. If it’s happy, I draw hope. But those aren’t actually my emotions- because at the moment, I’m feeling nothing really.