I think it started when I was four years old. I remember one day, before I could read, flipping through some illustrated encyclopedia because I liked the pictures. My mother lavished praise on me. Then she mentioned the incident to friends and family members. I was hooked.
From then on, like a trained lab animal, I would tap the “smart kid” bar to get my reward in the form of some kind of praise or recognition. It became a strange form of addiction. Doing the extra credit. Raising my hand faster than the other kids. Beating the adults at Scrabble.
Fast forward to the end of college, an awards ceremony at Columbia University. They were announcing the people graduating with distinction: cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude. “With praise, with great praise, with greatest praise.” My heart raced.
As they announced the names, I looked at the small booklet they handed to everyone. It listed all of the people graduating, and next to those being recognized there was one or more asterisks. My name didn’t have any. I clearly remember thinking there was some mistake. I had a 3.67 GPA. Surely that was good enough for something!
Fast forward 28 years, and I’m still waiting for them to call my name.
Now I’m at work, trying to do something I care about, and I get upset if they don’t reach down and pat me on the head. All my attempts at self-development and I’m still a four-year-old boy. Worse still, I’m not even sure who “they” are. At this point in my life, whose praise and recognition do I really need?
I look in the mirror and coach myself, something I'm doing more often these days.
It’s time to grow up, Johnny boy. You’re 50.
Stop waiting to be picked.
Focus on the contribution you can make. Focus on shipping and getting better. Focus on helping other people.
Do it for them. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t wait for the applause.