This post is a follow up to my last post, Into the Void. I realized something else that we all encounter, whether exacerbated through social media or not - is status anxiety.
I recently completed Alain De Botton’s book and found it enlightening.
He defines status anxiety as "A universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser".
Today, we’re so driven by status, and even if we don’t have a need to prove things to others, we often have to prove them to ourselves. Am I good enough? Will everyone think I’m accomplished enough? Smart enough? Competent enough?
These questions, rooted in self-doubt, diminish our confidence in our abilities and ultimately make us less creative (more on this later).
Does your existence matter? Why?
De Botton points this out:
The quest for status might actually be about respect, and even love – not romantic love, but a feeling that your existence matters to someone.
So why is love from others so important, and lovelessness so destructive? Well, most of us are unsure of our own value, and our identities are very much based on the perceptions of others. If you tell a joke and everyone laughs, your own confidence in the idea that you’re a funny person will grow. On the other hand, if people avert their eyes when you walk into a room, it won’t be long before you start feeling worthless and anxious.
Our self-esteem is so fragile. Think of it a balloon – this self-esteem balloon constantly needs to be refilled with the “helium” of external love so as not to deflate completely. Meanwhile, other actions – even small ones, like not being greeted enthusiastically enough or having our calls repeatedly unanswered – can suck more air out of the balloon.
So, it’s not surprising that we’re anxious about our place in the world. In our current society, our status determines how much love and respect we’ll receive from others and, as a result, whether we can confidently be able to love ourselves.
As our goals expand, our potential for humiliation expands too.
But, this quote’s accuracy is dependent on how you see it. A much more important question is this: is what you want what you actually need? Are your fears about the outcome of your actions justified? Do you want to be perceived as successful? How important as that to you If you hide something from someone at the fear of being judged, and they find out, should you be afraid?
Such a subtle reframing can be really helpful: All you have to do is recognize that the majority’s views are still full of confusion and error, and come to your own conclusions about what is or is not.
- Question traditions that haven’t been rigorously examined, and determine whether other people’s behavior is backed up by sound logic.
- Ask yourself if you truly respect the minds of those whose judgement seems so significant to you right now. You might find that their opinions aren’t worth getting worked up about.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (yes, the actor!) gave a pretty great TED Talk that I watched this morning as to how creativity can be killed by our need for attention. He also makes some points in the same respect as to why I took a break from social media.
I highly recommend watching it if you like, but if you don’t have the time - here are his main points:
Our constant need for attention forces us to compete with people that are wholly irrelevant to our goals. By focusing on how we receive attention, and if we receive enough, we change our motivation for our work.
If we are creative and only create with the intention of receiving attention as a result of our work and what we push out into the world, we abandon true creative freedom.
Here’s what we should be doing instead:
1. Look at potential competitors as your collaborators, and understand that you’re working alongside them, not against them. There won’t be nearly as much pressure to perform well and you’ll be able to express your freedom more creatively.
2. Realize that you’re just as capable as you are right now. Work on what you enjoy, not on what you think what others will. Don’t think about what everyone else will think. If someone happens to find value in what you create, that’s an added benefit.
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