A few years ago, when I was still freelancing, I played a role in helping create our area’s first real community around web, software, and design. Being part of doing that is something I’m proud of, but more importantly, I’ve gained so many great friends out of that community.
In the course of time, as the community and my company grew, I found myself one of the more influential people in that community, which has been a very difficult thing for me to wrestle with.
It’s made for a considerable amount of personal agony over the years as I’ve tried to decide how best to use that influence, leading me to step back and hand off responsibility for the various things I started and led in their earliest days, like Doctype Society, our area’s first tech meetup, and TriConf, our community barcamp.
My greatest fear has long been becoming someone whose influence causes more harm than good. As a result, I’ve always worked very hard not to cross the line of simply by default ignoring people who are critical. I don’t have a very thick skin and I don’t find it easy to dismiss others’ hurtful opinions, even if they’re uninformed or I disagree with them. I tend to hold on to them and use them as both a tool to expose where I need to be a better person as well as a knife to flay my own skin.
In the past six months, I began to hear and feel increasing criticism and distance between the company that I love and our local community. I’ve given some of these a great deal of thought and wrestled with each over the course of many months.
Some people have been frustrated and hurt by personal opinions I have shared publicly about startups, startup culture, and my one-time hopes for our community to be an antithesis of that. In reflection, I regret ever standing in anyone’s way and I have extended some direct apologies.
There are plenty of other little things—criticism of our choices of clientele and friends, our involvement in community events, and the fact that we are as tight-knit of a group as we are, which makes outsiders feel left out. All of these are hard to hear and deal with, especially because the vast majority of them don’t ever come via direct conversation.
I’ve been advised by many people it ultimately doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll likely get different verses of the same.
Thinking about this, I recall the Freudian concept, the narcissism of small differences, which suggests people who are actually quite similar need to find ways to mark themselves as different in order to preserve self-image. It’s basically the root of every feud between neighboring tribes: Catholics and Protestants, Sharks and Jets, Coke and Pepsi, Ruby and Python.
No one’s immune. We all do this.
Subcultures especially need something to be the antithesis of, so in order for some folks to establish themselves as leaders, it’s necessary to mark us as “them”.
Rather than try to fight this or go against it, I’ve decided it’s actually for the best. If there are people locally who want to see our community grow and improve, I absolutely want to support them, and I’m willing to do that even if we’re the bad guy.
But I don’t have to submit myself to their judgment.
A week ago, I caught a link to this post, You’ll be waiting forever, and it’s really resonated with me:
They are going to tell you that you don’t know what you want.
They’re going to tell you that you want too much. You’re unreasonable for reserving your time only for those who support your progress and see the parts of you that are divine. They are going to tell you that you want too little. You have low self-esteem for tolerating imperfection and the people who toe out of line and hurt you. They are going to tell you that you work too hard, are too lazy, think too hard and don’t think nearly enough. Everything you do, they are going to tell you to do the opposite.
I’m here to tell you this:
Your tolerance is part of what makes you divine. Sometimes your hard works means you have to take it a little easier on yourself later. Whether your brain works too hard or not enough, thank your Creator that it is still working and strive to be more balanced every day.
I’m also going to tell you that they don’t know shit about shit, and when it comes to their shit, you know what “they” are going to do? Exactly what they want. So go ahead. Wait for them to tell you when it’s okay for you to feel good about you.
I’ve decided for the sake of my own personal freedom and mental health, I’m going to be more picky about whose opinion I actually give a crap about.
It’s very simple: people are precious and time is short.
There never seems to be enough time to love all the people I love, so why waste energy pleasing people I can’t please?
Deciding to let go of that feels like real freedom.