All the Attention I Want and Don’t Want
I want to hear the applause, but from behind the curtain
I’ve always been fascinated by confident people — the ones who announce their latest achievement at a party, or who seem happy to share their latest success across all their social media channels.
I don’t mean arrogant braggarts. There’s nothing I particularly admire about them, and often that behavior is rooted in insecurity.
But I’ve definitely met people who take genuine pride in what they’ve done and want to share it with others. There’s still probably ego tied up in all that, but I don’t come away from those encounters feeling like someone just slimed me with their greatness. Rather, I come away with admiration for the person who can own their accomplishments and feel good about sharing them.
From an early age, I’ve always hated having people notice me. If I won an award at school, I tried to ditch the ceremony. If someone complimented me, I’d look to the ground and mumble a thanks. Even in adulthood, I squirm if someone sings my praises.
Tellingly, when a friend once asked, “If you could have any profession in the world, what would you be?” I immediately knew the answer: I would dance in the chorus line on a Broadway show.
It’s not that I don’t like recognition. I’m as craven for it as the next person. I still want to feel the bright lights and hear the applause, but from behind the curtain, or with rows and rows of other people shielding me from any direct attention.
Ideally, I would receive a report each month that simply said, “Someone laughed as they read your writing,” or “Someone thought your product roadmap was really clear.” I want to be recognized, but at a very safe distance.
I worked in Communications at Google until late 2017. It was easy for me to promote my company’s products, because they never felt like mine. It was someone else who had built the Search bar; someone else who made Google Maps work.
But after I left, I suddenly found myself without my normal shields. So I tried create new ones.
When I published a book, I tried to do it anonymously. I wanted people to enjoy it, and I wanted to see them enjoy it, but I…