One of Seth Godin’s assertions is that you have to “pick yourself”. For years, I didn’t. I did what I thought I was supposed to, rather than looking for what I was meant to do. More and more, I find myself making the choices and doing the kind of work that is leading my life in a far more compelling direction. I’m picking myself; I’m doing the work. As the work improves, as I figure out what I want to say and how I can best say it, I can’t help but wonder if this is enough.
Picking and Choosing
You can pick yourself to do the work. You can pick yourself to show up. You can pick yourself to keep improving. But at some point, do you have to worry about getting chosen? Can you organically grow through nothing more than your own choice and effort or, at some point, does the right person or right group of people take notice of what you’re doing in order to get to the next level?
As much as you don’t need permission to put yourself and your work out there, there’s still a part of me that wonders if it can really ever take off without that external seal of approval. You may pick yourself, you may put your work out there, you might do everything right, but how often does great work go unnoticed?
In a recent guest post, Marcelo Somers suggested that:
It’s unfortunate that in our world, the first 18–22 years of our lives are spent in an education system geared toward convincing us to “fit in,” to meet the status quo. We spend our days appeasing teachers who bestow upon us a grade that becomes the key to success in our life.
You’ll get no argument from me that there are serious issues with what the educational system attempts to do with those of us who don’t “fit in.” Yet there’s still something there that, while unappealing, rings true. It’s especially frustrating for those of us who pick ourselves and start to find our own way. We may choose the work, but at some point it seems that, no matter how good we get, another will bestow that grade and become the key to our success (or lack thereof).
Much as I hate to admit it and much as I believe in the importance of picking yourself, getting chosen matters. Especially if you want to keep doing whatever it is you’re meant to be doing (unless you don’t have bills and if you don’t have bills… well, I don’t like you very much…).
While every “level up” on this site originates with my work, the success of that work can almost always be traced to a link or kind word from a peer or someone higher up on the food chain. I pick myself to do the work, someone else choses it as worthy of attention, you check it out on their say so. If the work is any good, you stick around. The cycle perpetuates, you continue doing solid work, and you build an audience.
Picking Before Choosing
None of this matters if you aren’t doing the work and if it isn’t any good. I’m sure you can find me a few examples of people who did one thing and like wildfire it took off. I’m sure you can find me people who didn’t even need that one good thing… That said, the people I admire most almost always have a body of work that was created long before they were ever chosen themselves.
I’ve been trying to balance both. I sit down every day in front of this keyboard and work. I pour myself into the writing and do my best to be useful, but I’ve also taken steps to get chosen. This isn’t a shady thing, its not like I’m trying to connect with people just to get a link (although the temptation is occasionally there). I’ve just come to realize that the people you seek to make your peers and the taste makers you admire matter as much to your success as your own willingness to do the work. You have to give as much to your network as you do to your work. You have to choose others and invest in their work as much as you do your own. You have to do work worth choosing, but you also have to take steps to ensure that others see the work.
Pick yourself, pick others, always attempt to do great work, but don’t forget to at least try and get chosen. Much as we hate to admit it, it’s often the best way to keep doing whatever it is we’re doing here.