Applause is a sign you're doing something wrong


You've seen those movies when the mom claps wildly at her baby's every step.

Many of us have experienced that. And we're fortunate.

The praise for our early victories - sports team victories, graduations, promotions, marriage - conditions us to expect the same at work.

Unless you are self-employed though, you should expect precisely the opposite.

For reasons that are completely outside your control - namely politics and culture - your success normally makes others feel like they're endangered, or lacking.

Which is why true innovators find themselves in a quandary most of the time. Because their contributions are valued, but also scare people. On so many levels.

Young people, I think, are more likely to fall into this trap of wanting people to applaud their every achievement. They are conditioned to think that if they do good, someone will clap. So if nobody's clapping, they're not doing anything, or worse, they're failing.

This is of course an expectation made worse by being part of the Facebook generation, where every living moment must be shared and commented on by the pack.

This is such a dangerous need. It causes people with good jobs to leave organizations because they don't feel valued enough. Or maybe they don't push hard enough to achieve the next level, because it just seems like such a struggle.

The fact is, when people start applauding loudly, that's the time to get really worried. Because in organizations, people compete for status. And unfortunately, your success is too often viewed as somebody else's failure. 

It is only logical to try and keep your competitors down - not raise them up.

So how do you know if you're doing well? We live in a society that stresses "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Happiness comes from being successful. The markers of success are promotions (money) and praise (social status). 

Here's the deal: You have to change your markers. Go from outside to inside.

From a financial perspective, you can measure your value to the organization by 1) the fact that they want you there 2) the complexity of the assignments you are given 3) the total value of your compensation.

From a social-status perspective, you can measure your value by contributing to conversations where nobody has a stake in competing with you. Those would be social media type conversations, or even working on your own - enhancing your education, doing research, even writing a book.

When you're actually at work, there's another big way to tell if you're achieving something. The quiet people quietly seem to like you. They don't say it out loud or even "go to bat" for what you're doing. But in their own private way, when you come across them in the halls, they nod as if to say, "You're a good egg."

Remember this. When you're in a team at work, school, or elsewhere, you're going to run into personalities of all kinds. 

* Some of them will be bright, like strawberries just picked from the farm and happy to contribute to the fruit salad. 

* Others will be moldy, like those same old strawberries having sat for three days in a car trunk and smelling up every bowl they're put into. And turning the other fruit moldy, as well.

Just say, "Whatever."

Because in the end, you have to be your own wildly clapping mom or dad. 

Nobody is going to praise you for every good thing you do. 

When you're onto something, and making progress, it's that inner good feeling of self-respect that tells you.

Forget the mentions, the tweets, the invites, the interviews, the designations "rock star," "guru," or "legend."

Find your North Star and follow it. Your inner truth, and nothing else, will be the thing that sets you free.

Good luck!