You know the story. Forces aligned, it was a combination of good timing and hard work, and now you’re receiving that award or writing that book dedication thanking family and friends: “I couldn’t have done it without you.” And it’s true. You couldn’t have done it without them. You needed them, but not in the way you think.
Looking back on some of my more accomplished moments, though I had a lot of support in terms of my happiness,
It was the lack of understanding from family and friends that fueled both my frustration and fire.
It’s happened so often that I’ve taken their blank stares as an indicator that I’m doing something right. Here’s how to take “no one gets meeeeeeee!” and turn it into success.
When starting out on a project, class, or whatever endeavor, it’s natural to share the news with loved ones. On a basic level, this happens in conversation: “so what have you been up to?” More deeply, we’re often seeking validation. This is especially true of parents. When it starts to feel like you’re explaining your passions and triumphs to a wall, guess where validation starts to come from? Yourself. This means you’re beginning to understand your work on a more nuanced level that is completely over the heads of your family and friends. It also reinforces that you’re doing this for yourself and no one else. I used to get really upset when my mom would dismiss my accomplishments. I’d find my work published in a magazine (OK, it was a zine in a small bookstore on the outskirts of Japan, but STILL), and in the middle of my excitement, she’d get distracted by a gold backpack or something. After a while, I stopped waiting for her to be proud of me and learned to be proud of myself. I’m not saying to be passive-aggressive and stop sharing good news, but stop looking outside yourself for applause. You don’t actually need it. When you do get it (and you will), it will come from your peers. And that’s called respect.
Find your people
It’s no one’s job to “get” you. But it is your job to find people that do. The hermit who built his or her genius in solitude is a rare case. Most of us need to collaborate and be inspired by others and their work. Also, there are always people better than you at what you do. Find them. Learn from them. When your current support circle stops being able to relate, you need to expand in order to progress. Shortly after publishing one of my first articles, I was talking about it with a friend and she asked me how it felt to write for an audience. Puzzled, I responded, “well, aren’t we always writing for an audience?” She said she had no idea, and it hit me that somewhere along the way I’d become a writer, and now needed to find others in the same position to relate to. This isn’t a case for arrogance. It is simply acknowledging your expertise and that your skills and creativity will stagnate unless you find others to challenge you.
Get good at explaining yourself
No matter how much you feel something is what you were “meant to do,” there will always be a time in the beginning when it’s new. And let’s face it, at this point, you’re not good at it yet. You barely “get” it, so other people definitely aren’t going to. Some pursuits are met with ready support: “When my little sister had meningitis, I saw how life-saving the medical profession was and so I decided I wanted to become a doctor.” Other notions are less safe: “I want to start an online clothing rental business with a friend. We have no money, but think it’s a really good idea, and plus I’ve always wanted to start my own business.” In either scenario, you are working on your personal elevator speech. The longer you stick with something, the more people will ask “why?” That means you get better at explaining – briefly, clearly, all in the time it takes to get to the next floor on an elevator with possibly the person who helps make your next big move.
Anything worth doing is going to be hard. Your first taste of opposition may actually come from your inner circle. If it is, consider yourself lucky because it’s great practice for the many hurdles you’ll face on the way to the top. When I was deep in the weeds of launching a startup, three of my relatives staged an entrepreneur intervention, urging me to stop; that since taking this on, I looked as if I’d aged 100 years. Their advice came from a place of love, but it still felt like no one was on my side. And that’s the thing. There are going to be times where the path is lonely, especially if you’re on the road towards something great. Every time someone says “no” to you, there’s an opportunity to evaluate their reasoning and either adjust or keep going as you were. It makes for strong conviction, which is what you need to accomplish big things.
Know what it’s like to “just know”
Have you ever felt like you “just knew” something was the right decision? Well this is even more intense when preceded by people you love telling you that “you don’t know shit.” This gut feeling resonates so deep, you’ll be able to call upon it next time you find yourself at a crossroads because it will be familiar. Conversely, when you don’t have that feeling, it should be an indication that more analysis is required. It’s an exercise in intuition and is not so different from bowling. You know how you try to remember the feels of a strike so you can do it again? What did my arm feel like when it went back? Where was I looking? At what point did I feel myself let go of the ball? Same thing. You start to understand and speak the language of your inner voice, because in the end, who else should you be listening to anyway?