So, as I have mentioned, I spent the past few days at an academic conference in my field. These conferences are always an odd experience for me. I wouldn’t say that are bad, because I enjoy the things I learn, the time spent with friends and colleagues I don’t get to see much, and often (though not this time) exploring whatever city I’m in. But, they are odd because they bring up a wash of not-so-pleasant self-evaluations every time.
Even though I don’t logically really expect or want a lot of attention, at conferences I always find myself feeling a little disappointed or ashamed that I have not accomplished more with my career. It’s funny, because some people would probably say that I’ve done plenty. Yet, in those moments, I feel like I should have researched harder, published more, made more of a name for myself, struggled more diligently to rise in the leadership of the organizations, etc.
It would be tempting to say that this is about career, but that is not true. I get the same way about other things. I have a favorite band that I adore. In the past decade, I’ve seen many shows and even gotten to see several shows on one tour in the front few rows. Eventually, I started to feel that I had to be close to the front. And then, someone in the band acknowledged my presence and that became the new standard of a “good show.” Over time, even that didn’t feel like enough. What did I really want? To meet the band? To have my picture taken with them? I don’t know. Again, logic tells me that I’m not going to suddenly be their very best friend, and I’m not even sure that I want to. But that vague sense of needing to do/be more crept in and started to rob each concert experience of the joy in the moment. I had to take a step back from my attendance at shows and following the band’s progress to shake myself out of it.
I don’t think I’m the only one that gets like this. It can happen in work, in family life, or even in “leisure activities.” It’s easy enough to lose track of the general benefits of yoga, running, swimming, playing music, and get overly involved in the winning or recognition. I’ve seen it in others, and I’ve seen it in myself. Certainly in blogging, the competitive and recognition driven “me” can rise to the surface extremely easily.
Thinking about how this manifests itself in my own behavior and the behavior of those around me makes me wonder… Do we, as a culture, encourage this focus on recognition by the way that we interact and raise children? Does the giving of awards for everything from finger painting skill to being on the t-ball team to “most improved science student” create people who have trouble being satisfied with where they are but instead yearn for the 15 minutes (or 15 months?) of fame that we think we are due?
Perhaps the way to change this is to put our focus, from childhood on, onto the experience itself, rather than the external outcomes. Maybe we can’t completely get away from the desire for external motivators, but at least we might be able to reduce the stifling of the intrinsic value of our actions, and of our being.
Meanwhile, I may never be the band’s best friend, the foremost scholar in my field, a yogi rockstar, or the biggest vegan/yoga blogger evah, but my life is pretty darn great and I’m going to try to keep myself in a headspace where I can remember that!