Ever been in the position of sorting through CVs? I have, and it’s not pretty. Typos, ugly formatting (big no-no), and lots of obvious bullshit. But one type of phrase I’d see again and again made me wince more than all the glaring mistakes combined…
“I’m an innovative, motivated, and passionate individual…” Sigh. Really? What have you innovated? What are you motivated to do? What are you passionate about?
See, I don’t doubt that a lot of these are good people. That’s what made the process painful. There’s so much good stuff inside of people, but if it stays bottled up in there then they’re no different than the rest of the world, who are equally capable of describing themselves with impressive sounding adjectives.
Here’s the problem: We all believe that our internal processes define us. Spending 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in our head is a pretty good way to get to know how awesome we are.
But what’s on the inside only matters to the extent that it affects what’s on the outside. Others judge us based on what we do, not what we think. And rightfully so: the only reason I want to hire someone who is innovative, motivated, and passionate is so that they act in an innovative, motivated, and passionate way. Writing it on your resume does nothing to prove to me that this is likely. As Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
So why don’t people do things? It’s a tough question. Part of it has to do with the education system. Society has encouraged us to use official credentials to prove our worth, rather than our work. Want to be hired as a programmer? Wouldn’t your previous projects give a better display of your abilities than a degree? Hoping to be a journalist? Wouldn’t a portfolio of your writing prove your talent more than a recommendation from your professor?
But, rather than blaming the education system, let’s get to the core problem: fear. By doing stuff, we’re forced to face reality. And that’s scary. There’s no risk in thinking about Plato and calling yourself a philosopher. But put your thoughts into a blog post and read the comments and see how your ego holds up.
This reluctance to face reality in the name of ego-protection is the most common barrier I’ve seen to people accomplishing things. Looking good has become more important than being good. But, when we put that fear aside, it’s easy to see that creating and putting things out into the world not only gives us something to show for our internal processes, but allows us to stress-test our ideas and improve. Those nasty blog comments are your guide on the path to improvement, not the path to depression.
We need to learn to embrace this pain. By daydreaming about our brilliant plans that we “just haven’t gotten around to yet” and postponing our inevitable confrontation with reality, we’re only hurting ourselves. The soil may be what allows the tree to grow, but all we really care about is the fruit. An awesome person is just a regular person who does awesome things.
There’s a million ways this fear manifests itself. “But I’m starting a business I don’t care about so I have enough money to do good for the world later” … “But I’m spending months learning about exercise without joining a gym so I can be more efficient later.” But, but, but, but, but. Fuck that. Stop it. Go do the stuff you care about. Your life is your message.