Tonight my son was the student of a lesson I’ve been actively trying to learn
all week all my life.
How to keep thinking you’re a rock star when the world hands you proof otherwise.
The setting? My son’s soccer ceremony. The kick in the gut? Instead of being awarded the “best player” trophy at his soccer ceremony tonight, it was presented to one of his friends.
Props to my kid in that instead of losing his shit like one of the younger kids who screamed and stormed off at the end of the presentations, mine actually held back tears long enough to mutter a mom-forced congratulations to his friend, and pose for a picture with him. But as soon as possible, he grabbed my hand to walk far enough away to break down.
“It’s not fair,” he cried. “Everyone knows I’m the best player! The coach favors H. and everyone knows it! I should have gotten that trophy, not him.”
I nodded sympathetically. Maybe I agreed with him. But even if I didn’t, I couldn’t help but relate to how much it sucks when you know you’ve done something really great and people aren’t recognizing you adequately.
I feel this way at least once a day.
What I found truly amazing, however, as my son was lamenting his coach’s bias is that he never once said:
“I suck at soccer. I’ll never get the trophy.” Or,
“I’m not good enough. If I was, my coach would have given me the trophy!”
Instead, he insisted time and again some version of “It’s not fair. I’m the best. Everyone knows it. I deserved that trophy.”
So why the agony?
What stops us from just believing our inner rock star?
Like my son, I’ve always been moderately confident. And in a chicken or the egg sort of puzzle, I’ve never been able to figure out if I’m confident thanks to my successes or if my success is linked directly to my confidence. But as confident as I often appear (to myself and others), there’s always a moment when cocksure turns to doubt.
Like my son, I want the trophy. I want the recognition. I want people to understand how great I am and tell me. Over and over and over again.
If the key opinion leaders in my life — the people I’ve deemed smart, successful, funny, cute, sexy, or otherwise worthy of my worship and/or attention — praise me for my work, I’m on cloud 9. “People really get me,” I think. I have proof I am great.
But if the KOLs don’t agree with my own personal assessment of me (that I’m great/working hard/ trying to be kind), or they don’t shout it out loud, my confidence slowly begins to dissolve.
I like the applause. I like it when people think I’m special.
But is it possible to like it without believing it?
The recognition has clearly become an addiction, and I don’t like being dependent on it. As with any dependency, I suffer when I go through withdrawal. On the other hand, what happens to our greatness when no one notices? Or when someone else sees your greatness as mediocrity at best?
Philosophers, Buddhist monks, and fans of the Matrix still debate whether or not an object exists if someone is not around to perceive it.
How on earth do I evaluate my performance without counting on a grade/raise/applause/pat on the back/book deal?
* * *
My son and I both simultaneously live in two different realities. The one in which “I am great and I know it.” And the one in which “I am great and nobody knows it.”
In fact, most of us are constantly perched at the center of a seesaw, one foot on the side of certain and the other on the side of afraid. It’s up to each of us, in every moment, to choose where to place our weight. This much I know.
But is believing our inner rock star really as simple as deciding to?
Can we simply choose to live the reality in which we are great? Instead of the reality in which we’re waiting for others to notice?
Is it possible to be the rock star without the audience?