Obscurity. Working in it sucks. All the hours you put into your passion can be tough at times when you receive little recognition. Many of us are comfortable with our labors of love and the personal reward they bring. Many of us are not. Especially when we see someone else succeeding in fame or fortune.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice on how to gain more recognition or wealth. That is definitely not my area of expertise. Some people claim to have a formula. I am a little skeptical of formulas for such things. If there was such a formula for fame and wealth, how many more of us would have already achieved that? Exactly.
What concerns me more is how we feel about ourselves and our work whether we are toiling in obscurity or bathing in recognition. Perhaps it has to do with ego, a healthy ego, which may be related to our self-evaluation of our own self-worth. We do tend to be pretty hard on ourselves at times.
I’ve noticed that many people who work in obscurity seem to undervalue on their work because it is not known. As if quality is dependent on recognition, which is of course not true. But it’s an easy trap to fall into. Examples abound where quality was not recognized so readily.
Vincent Van Gogh is my favorite though extreme example. Worked in obscurity. You know the rest of the story. And how about the countless stories of authors whose now famous works were rejected by hundreds of experts in the world of literature. And how about all the people whose quality work has not yet been discovered and may never be?
Are you the next Vincent Van Gogh? Who knows. But every day the experts in a field pass over the next big thing, the ground breakers.
The other side of the coin is people who gain success in any endeavor tend to overvalue their work because of the recognition received. It might be really good. But then again it might not be any better than your work. Certainly understandable that one’s ego might inflate in light of much praise.
Certainly there’s no shame in being proud of your recognized work. But there’s also no shame in being proud of your unrecognized work.
We all know fame is fickle. Fame and fortune are also quite random. Assume we have both created quality products with good hard work. One of us becomes famous and one does not. Why is that?
Well, the cold answer is the outcome was random. Influenced by forces far beyond our control and understanding. You got in the elevator one day by chance with the VP of sales and you discovered you both liked the same band and had pleasant exchange about it. Later the VP remembered that and recognized your name from a list of hundreds. The VP picked you because he had a pleasant memory of you. Awesome to be you.
I didn’t get a chance meeting with the VP in the elevator because I dropped my phone running for the elevator and missed it when I stopped to pick up my phone. Sucks to be me.
You may not believe this. That’s OK. Though you should really go read “Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He will push your buttons much better than I.
But that’s not the real point I am trying to make. I am asking you to not devalue your hard work because it lacks recognition. Should you always be looking to be better and push boundaries? Absolutely.
I am asking you to find value and pride in your work because that is what will make you feel good, that is what will give you a healthy ego. Because handing the health of your ego over to the vagaries of success is a bad idea. Embrace your obscurity.