I have a friend auditioning for The Voice this weekend. She’s not telling many people because she doesn’t want to make too big a deal about it or get anyone’s hopes up (including her own maybe?). I want to tell her: please don’t let these judges—no matter how talented, powerful, or accomplished they may be—define you. Don’t let your enjoyment of the moment depend on their reaction to it. This is, of course, easier said than done.
I crave constant validation from other people. No amount of praise or straight A’s or job offers satisfies my appetite. My stomach simply expands, the way a snake’s body does when it swallows an antelope.
Success, some say, means being happy with yourself regardless of other people, but we are social animals, and trying to accomplish anything in this world requires the good judgment of others (customers buy your product, the director picks you for the part, your lover marries you, etc.). The balance between defining yourself and letting others define you is a precarious one, and I haven’t been particularly good at negotiating it. Honestly, I’m not an expert in success. I’m not a Madonna or a Steve Jobs. I’m an ordinary person. Plus, you shouldn’t trust anyone who is trying to tell you how to be successful. Most likely, they are selling something. My credibility if I have any is that I’ve been happier these past few months. I think it’s partly because I have been thinking much more critically about my personal—and our cultural—definitions of success. That’s one reason why I decided to start this blog: I wanted to create a space where I could explore and challenge my ideas about “the good life” (and hopefully connect with other questioners who will make the questioning less lonely).
I want to say to my friend: regardless of what happens at The Voice audition, you are a success to me because you seem happy. It seems to make you happy the way you systematically put yourself out there (starting your own businesses, performing in your bands, etc.), and luck or chance or timing or a dozen other things have caused many of these endeavors to succeed. Some of your endeavors will fail. You’ll never have a moment when you “make it.” It will go on and on. I guess that’s why I hope you allow your biggest fans to share in your moment this weekend, no matter what these judges—who are complete strangers—have to say about it.