Obviously, the best thing about primary school was nap-time.
But after that, the next best thing for a budding multipod like me was having a single teacher throughout the entire school year. This meant the same person would teach maths, music, geography and French, so I was praised for being moderately competent in most subjects.
I can compare this to my less idyllic high school years. My art teacher mysteriously didn’t seem to care that I was good at physics and refused to massage my ego appropriately when I handed in my feeble attempts at drawing.
Of course, I’ve long since grown beyond such a childish need for approval…
… haven’t I?!
It’s not just ego
Apologies. I’m being a little facetious. It’s not childish to want our achievements—whether big or small, personal or international—to be recognized. In fact, very few people can live without acknowledgement, whether it’s a simple “thanks for cleaning the sink,” or a full-on welcome parade and a Nobel prize.
But I’ve rarely consciously grappled with my own need for recognition or how it might be met. I often wonder about passion. I regularly discuss money. But recognition? As a motivation it feels as if I haven’t… well… recognized it enough.
And the more I thought about how the need for recognition plays out in my life, the deeper I realised it goes.
My mental model of the process of “receiving recognition” goes something like this:
- We do something: either something big, or lots of small things.
- People notice our accumulated accomplishments.
- They tell us so.
- It feels nice.
Initially, it seems as if one of these two paths is harder for multipotentialites, who are naturally more likely to have a long list of unrelated achievements than one noteworthy masterpiece. Who—except for primary school teachers, parents and partners— even notices our accumulated accomplishments?!
Different people pay attention to any given thing that we do. Which leaves us with only the other option to meet our need for recognition, which entails achieving something very impressive. Yikes! Are multipotentialites doomed by their nature to be starved of approval unless we’re able to be outstanding in a specific field?!
Well… no. After a little thought, I believe this might be how life works for everybody. The only people who pay attention to all of our activities are close friends and family—and often, even they don’t know everything. Which is fair enough–they have busy lives too!
I strongly suspect that this results in a world where everybody feels underappreciated. This is a big problem. It’s not only nice to feel appreciated, it’s motivational too. I don’t need a lot of praise, but I do need a regular supply to keep my levels of inspiration topped up.
So what can we do about this recognition deficit? Logically, there are only two possible solutions: get more recognition, or need less of it.
Unfortunately, recognition isn’t easy to come by.
Recognition is unlike other rewards
Recognition is a noun, putting it in the same grammatical class as money, friends and apples. However, it’s an abstract noun, putting it in the same class as emotion, energy and disappointment.
Since it’s abstract, we can’t point to recognition. We can’t store it up, and we can’t transfer it. It exists purely in transit. And both the source of recognition and the reason for it matter almost as much as the recognition itself.
For recognition to matter, it must be freely given.
We can’t just find any old recognition lying around on the street and bring it home. It must be granted to us by somebody else. And it must be granted freely—forcing our friends and family to applaud us feels hollow after a while.
Similarly, recognition must be earned. Receiving praise can have the opposite effect if we don’t deserve it. It feels actively bad to be praised for something we never did, didn’t actually do very well, or for something we contributed very little to. (You may also be familiar with the opposite problem, of refusing legitimate praise because we wrongly feel we don’t deserve it. Being human is complex, isn’t it?!)
Recognition must come from the right source.
Recognition from experts isn’t the same as recognition from friends and family. And recognition from random strangers is different again. The exact same praise can land completely differently from a professor than from a parent.
Of course, it’s possible—and important—to give ourselves recognition. It’s healthy to celebrate our wins. But a little external validation goes a long way, and everything we’ve discussed means that we’re not in control of what recognition we receive. In fact, we can never be in control of it.
Most of us learn as children that forcing somebody to give us a compliment actually has the opposite effect on our self-esteem. Growing older, we may start to believe that if we just do good enough work—or even just enough work—then people will recognize us. But good work can be taken for granted, abused, stolen, or simply ignored.
Regardless of the quality of our work, we can never guarantee that anybody will even notice, let alone take time to acknowledge us
This is as true for friends and family as it is for colleagues, mentors, heroes and strangers. I often imagine that people are actively withholding compliments, or that they think everything I do sucks, but there are plenty of reasons that people don’t publicly recognize things we do. Perhaps they’ve just never thought about it. Or they don’t want to embarrass us with attention. Even more often, they haven’t even noticed what we’ve been doing.
All this means there’s only one way to gain more recognition which is within our control. And it’s the scariest of all: We have to ask for it.
Nobody is psychic, no matter how much they love you
I know, I know, I said earlier that we can’t force people to give us recognition, and that asking for compliments can feel hollow. But that doesn’t mean that asking for recognition is always a bad idea.
The key is our own evaluation of our achievements. If we’re wanting recognition, it’s because we feel we’ve done something worthy of it, and we’d like others to validate that feeling.
For example, sometimes I find myself wishing people would notice one particular thing I’m doing. It might be a big thing. Or it might just be that I’ve stopped leaving my laundry on the floor lately.
But somehow, no matter how hard I privately think to myself that it would be nice if somebody commented, nobody does. It’s almost as if nobody else can hear my thoughts and I need to speak them out loud if I want people to react to them.
Secretly wishing for acknowledgement isn’t enough. Instead, we need to find an appropriate way to say “Hey, it would mean a lot to me if you acknowledged this” (or checked out this bit of work, or just gave me a Good job!).
In short, it’s normal to need recognition, and it’s okay to tell people what kind of recognition you need! It still counts if they give it afterwards. And asking for acknowledgement might even be the only way to let people in your life know they need to give it.
How do you find recognition as a multipotentialite? How do you feel about voicing your need for it? Share with the community in the comments.
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