Don’t Give Up Your Power for Attention

My friend has a theory.  He thinks when people ask unbelievably dumb questions it’s not because they don’t know the answer or couldn’t find it themselves.  They’re capable.  It’s that they want the attention that comes from being answered more than they want their own power to independently get the answer.

There are a lot of examples of playing dumb as a way to get attention.  Emailing questions that are already answered on a website.  Asking how to listen to a podcast that’s already linked in the post being commented on.  Pretending to not notice when someone does something nice for you just so you can demontrate your surprise later in a more attention-grabbing way.

It’s a weird thing, and disempowering.  It’s actually kind of gross to observe.  I think a big part of it comes from the schooled mindset.  When you spend the first twenty or so years in a system based on pats on the back and ribbons and Dean’s lists and other forms of manufactured recognition by authority figures you learn to seek that kind of psychic and emotional reward.  There are few things teachers and experts and authorities with official sounding titles like more than being reminded that they know more than you.  They love an eager, pliable pupil.  When you ask them how to do things, raise your hand for clarification, ask them to expand on a point, or request a refresher on their material, you get positive attention.  So you develop a kind of learned helplessness.

It’s stupid and you should identify and shed it right away.  Operate at full power.  If you can discover or do something without anyone else’s assitance, do it.  If you can achieve goals without appealing to experts and authorities, all the better.  If you can create your product, start your business, write your song, or publish your book, do it.  You don’t need to focus group your supposed betters or ask every person you look up to to coffee for feedback.

It’s great if people like you and what you create.  It’s great to learn from others.  But get their attention by being the most you you can be.  Create something new and powerful, don’t pretend to be powerless in hopes of luring them in for a quick hit of, “She talked to me!”.  This is why mentorship can be dangerous.  Spend all your time seeking awesome mentors and you’ll forget to master what’s uniquely you and just build things.

Don’t play dumb.  The attention isn’t worth the loss of power.

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