Losing yourself in the crowd

by Kristin on April 3, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by Nestor’s Blurrylife

Eighth-grade graduation is apparently a “thing” in our town, so Q and her friends have been talking a lot about dresses lately. She’s at that age where shopping with friends is just about the only way to shop. Their exchanges of praise and approval are so important. They need each other to understand where they fit in the large scope of things, to feel accepted and to belong.

I am both amused and annoyed by this 14-year-old approach to life—this constant checking in with everyone around them—but if I’m honest, I’m right there, too. Thankfully, I’ve learned that shopping on my own is the best way to end up with clothes that are me, but when it comes to my writing, I can’t seem to stop looking at what everyone else is doing: Who’s finishing up a book proposal, and who signed with an agent. Who posts more than four times a week on their blog, and who gets the most comments. Who’s funniest and who’s most poignant.

Sometimes I wish I could cloister myself away with just a typewriter, far away from all the news and the chatter, the stats and the cliques, the comparisons and never-ending race.

Community that’s not about the Joneses

But I need community. We all do. We need it for different reasons at different times in our life, but we still need it. My daughter needs it for fodder as she shapes who she is; I need it for inspiration as I shape what I can become. My daughter needs it to feel anchored and safe; I need it for companionship and courage as I jump into the swift current.

Ultimately, my daughter and I both need to feel less alone. We need others to affirm where we are (“That dress looks good/that blog post spoke to me,”) and to encourage us to be and do more (“You should definitely try out for volleyball/send off your proposal”). We need to know that we have both worth and potential, because we are social beings who were created for community—who we are and who we become don’t matter apart from others, the people we will impact and be impacted by.

Knowing yourself and your red flags

So where is that line between finding ourselves and losing ourselves in community? Because the possibility of losing ourselves is just as real as the experience of finding ourselves. I walk that line each day as I participate in today’s “writer’s life.” Social media makes a writing community readily available, but it also can make it overwhelming and scary, harder to navigate and trust.

For my daughter, that line is crossed if she buys a dress she doesn’t like at the urging of a friend, or if she engages in behavior that makes her like herself less at the end of the day, when she’s alone and safe in her bed at night, without the voices of her friends surrounding her.

And for me? I’ve crossed that line if I find myself trying to be the type of writer I’m not—the funnier writer, or the more shocking and controversial one. I’ve crossed that line if my goals are shaped more by external comparisons than by internal longings. I start to lose myself in community when I become so wrapped up in what everyone else is doing that there’s no core of intellect and energy left for what I’m doing. And just like my daughter, if my engagement in my community makes me like myself less at the end of the day rather than more, something needs to shift.

What about you—have you experienced both finding and losing yourself in community? Do you think social media makes community easier or more complicated?

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  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    Great discussion of that thin line. I feel that way while reading blogs and books too. Readings so that other voices speak into and impact my own writing, but still remaining true to my own voice and my own story.

  • sarah louise

    I remember buying a bikini in high school due to peer pressure. I *NEVER* wore it. (I’m just not a bikini kind of person.)

    And yes, the pressure in social media…to have the right phone, to have a blog, to have so many followers…it’s very easy to lose track of the fact that it’s not the technology that matters, it’s that it connects us to people. We should never lose sight of that. What I love about my online activities is that it helps me connect to people that I might someday meet face to face (or that I already have met face to face).

    When I lose sight of the fact that I’m building relationships, it’s time to write a letter on paper that only reaches one person at a time, or to hole up and read a book, on paper, with a cup of tea. Or to call someone on the phone.

    Thanks for this post. The teen years are so hard, but I think part of us never really leaves high school…


  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    I know that feeling, Kristin, of wanting to hole up somewhere and just do what I want to do without any exterior influence. I feel so much pressure to maintain this social media stuff, and sometimes I wonder to what end. Great post.

  • http://studentsofjesus.com Ray Hollenbach

    On my best days I dive into the ocean of community with the aim of encouraging others. I am my best self when I can stand with appreciation and praise, applauding the unique perspective each writer brings. But that’s on my best days.

    Some days I get caught in the undertow of criticism or outright jealously toward others: “What an idiot!” my thoughts shout. “How can has this fool published two books when I can’t get arrested in the publishing world?”

    Like your 14 year-old, I think I am still in my writer’s adolescence: in need of community to feel less alone, but also at risk of becoming a middle-schooler all over again.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    Oh my, what a post! I definitely understand this.

    When that competitive thing gets rolling about someone else’s success, I try to see what they’re doing that I can learn from. Not to become them, but what things have they done that lead to their success and how can I adapt that into my own process. When I do that, I tend to be a little bit better about feeling genuine happiness for the person who is doing what I WISH I was doing because I see their success as a way for me to become better at my own craft.

    So while social media makes it way easier for me to try to be someone I’m not, it has also given me the tools to find more about who I am by seeing what others do well and using what is applicable to me.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Addie, it’s interesting that “copying” and being influenced by others is such a critical part of the creative process—especially when we’re still developing our style—yet creative endeavors are so marked by originality. No wonder it feels like such a fine line!

    sarah louise, I remember the moment I realized, in high school, that I simply shouldn’t go clothes shopping with certain influential friends. Somehow when I shopped with them, I always came home with what felt like someone else’s wardrobe! Anyway, this is so true: “…it’s very easy to lose track of the fact that it’s not the technology that matters, it’s that it connects us to people.” A great reminder.

    Shawn, as I wrote this post I was thinking about your hermit-writer ways. :) I definitely get the appeal, even though I know I would shrivel up without my community. Healthy community—as opposed to interactions for the sake of interacting—must always be my goal.

    Ray, I know you aren’t fishing for a compliment, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say that you are VERY encouraging, and it means a lot to me. Of course, I’m not aware of all that goes on in your head, but you seem to do a very admirable job letting only the positive stuff out. :)

    Alise, thanks for your honesty and for sharing a healthy way to frame this issue. One thing about observing the success of others is that it can also help you see more clearly what you *thought* you wanted, and maybe even adjust your goals in a way that better fits you. The grass is often greener until we take a closer look.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    I’ve been sitting on this post. It’s so true for us.

    I try to set standards and goals because I want to get stuff done, but then I start to worship the standards and goals, forgetting why I do it and who I write for.

    This reminds me of the War of Art. Pressfield talks about working within a hierarchy (where the opinions of others matter most) vs. working in territory, where you’re simply doing what you love and what you know you have to do. Hierarchy drains us and breeds unnecessary competition. Territory grounds us in what we need to do and makes it possible for us to be around others because we know who we are and what we need to do.