Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Write On Wednesday: Validation and the Ugly Truth About Praise

Do you remember when you’d get an answer right in school and your teacher would praise you? Or when you did well on a test and you’d get a gold star next to your 100% score with a smiley face?

Those gold stars ruined me.

gold star sticker

I find that I do things for the wrong reasons sometimes. Like I just want someone to give me a little recognition, a little praise, and maybe even a gold star. I don’t know if it’s because I worked very hard to be a teacher’s pet my entire school career, and was one of those “I’ll be involved in everything” kids just because I wanted people to know who I was, but I seriously always think about what other people think of me.

Which makes me SUPER annoyed with myself.

What does this have to do with writing? I feel like publication is the ultimate gold star; only this time it feels as far away as the REAL stars that I assume still twinkle every night (have you ever looked in the sky at night in the city? Stars are not visible. I have faith they’re still there.)Yes, I write because I love it. But I edit, and revise, and re-write and query, and critique because I want that gold star. I want to hold my book in my hands one day. I want to see it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. And I want people to like what I write.

But will that validate my aspirations? Will that solidify my career as an author? Will that justify the amount of time I spend now toiling and crying and feeling rejection after rejection just to pick myself back up and do it all over again? Will it make me happy?

Ultimately, probably not.

But I do think it’d be fun.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking more and more about what validates our lives. A lot of people need the big career, the loads of money and the huge house to feel like they’re a valuable asset to society. Other people need friends and parties and a phone that rings off the hook to know that they’re wanted. And some of us think about our facebook status updates FAR too much before posting them, and maybe checks to see what people have said FAR too many times immediately after posting them…Ahem. But at the end of the day we all want to be heard. We all want to feel like we’re making a difference. We all like a little recognition.

I’m reminded of Dr. Cox, one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite TV shows of all time; Scrubs. In one episode he’s on a diagnosing roll and he forces people to chant his name before he leaves their presence. His exact words are:

“Not until people start chanting my name so that I can exit the room with my hands held high above my head in a victorious gesture…You see, this diagnosing machine, this fabulous thing? Well, it runs on props, so I'm going to need to hear it. Come now.”

Dr. Cox

I think we all like to hear our name chanted sometimes. In high school, my group of friends started a thing where we’d see someone in the hall, say their full name and applause, for no reason. EVERY time that person smiled, blushed, and even sometimes bowed. Try it. Get three people to say your name and clap for you. You’ll immediately feel better. Promise.

So I guess the point to all this rambling is, while everyone likes a little recognition, it shouldn’t be the driving force behind what we do. I didn’t teach my little girl the alphabet so I could show her off to my friends. I did it so she could read. (If you’re my facebook friend, you’ll remember my status update…I agonized over that one…”how do I say this without sounding like an overly proud crazy mom?” )

And I’m tired of being annoyed with myself. I’m tired of worrying about what people think. I’m tired of not feeling like a valid human being without the whole world wide web praising my every step. That will never happen. (And quite frankly, it’d be freaky if it did).  So I’m setting a goal for myself to be happy with – and for – myself. It’s not easy. But life stopped handing me gold stars a long time ago.

It’s time to make my own.


  1. For what it's worth, I starred this article in Google Reader.

    But your point is valuable: having value come from within yourself is a (or from real sources) instead of transitory recognition is the basis for a more solid sense of self-worth and a more happy life overall.

    Wow, I'm deep in comments!

  2. Beautiful post, Kadie! I think you've realized some amazing things far ahead of the game than many other writers do, so you should get a gold star for that, at least!

    I just keep remembering my post about it not being about The Big Publishing Deal - or any publishing deal, for that matter, because publishing will not make you happy. It might temporarily, but your happiness is going to come from something far deeper inside yourself. I promise. I have a good feeling you already know that. :)

  3. I hope you gave yourself a gold star for this well-written, very vulnerable post. I like the way way you've shared this, and you have me reflecting. Thanks!

    p.s. Found your blog after you described its diversity in your comment on the Live Chat.

  4. Wonderful post! I know exactly what you mean. I was the 4.0 girl in school. Straight A's since 2nd semester of 2nd grade. Yes. SECOND GRADE. Once I graduated from all schools I felt lost. I wasn't being graded... how was I supposed to feel good about myself without that list of A's proving my worth?

    About 3 months ago someone taught me the we should be praising our kids for their WORK, not their RESULT. So instead of "good job learning the alphabet" it'd be "I'm so proud of your hard work or dedication to learning." Work and dedication can be duplicated/turned into long term characteristics.

    Anyway, I internalized his message. I told myself it wasn't the straight A's that were awesome, it was the dedication it took to achieve them. Along with hard work, organizational skills, and effective communication. Now, as I write, instead of waiting for my gold star from publishing, I try to give myself props for the efforts I put into the writing. Perserverance, ability to accept criticism, humility to learn from others, etc.

    I think as we focus on the characteristics we're building, we'll be less inclined to look for the external gold star. I hope that helps. It's helped me. Is praise still helpful? Absolutely! But the need for it has diminished since I heard that man speak.

    Anyway, novel over. :) Thanks for this fabulous post! Love it!

  5. @Nate, I need scuba gear for that comment, it's so deep. lol. But thank you, I get what you're saying.
    @Michelle, I do know that being published is not the be-all end-all. This is kind of a step in my realization that there's more to being happy than a hardcover book I wrote. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't think it'd be neat. :)
    @C.N. I'm so glad you were on the chat last night and that you found your way here! I'm glad to get you thinking. And vulnerable is right! I almost didn't publish this one.
    @D.B. Why aren't we best friends? lol. I'm so glad I met you on the chat last night too, and it sounds like we have a lot in common! But I LOVE your comment about praising the work, not the result. I've already told my little girl today I was glad how hard she tried. It's such a better aspect of life to reward; hard work, not straight A's. Thank you thank you.


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