You Can't Please Everyone
Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly and forget about comfort
I’m not easily convinced, deceived, or distracted by people because I don’t really pay attention to people (as opposed to ideas). 99% of the time when I write, I write for myself. I write what pleases me. I write what I wish to read when I have 3-7 spare minutes.
But, in that 1%, I do get a little self-conscious. I worry a little about criticism. I worry that you misunderstand me and unsubscribe. I consider deleting certain sentences or paragraphs or entire drafts because it’s too risky. Then, at that point, writing becomes a death by a thousand papercuts — a draft is never ready to be published when you’re worried that you can’t please everyone.
Here’s my conclusion about creativity and sharing your best ideas in public: disregard comfort.
I used to fence. Fencing gear is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever worn, and when I did, I did it for hours and hours on end. Ergonomic? Sure. Comfortable? Never — but that’s because fencing gear is designed for protection, not comfort.
Comfort is not the focus when there’s a higher priority. The ergon in “ergonomics” is Greek for “work”, “task”, or “function”; in other words, comfort is useless if something is not fulfilling its purpose first. Form follows function: a good clock tells time, a good car drives. What does good art do? It connects, inspires, enlightens, and changes people’s hearts. To do that, art cannot be afraid to offend. It cannot water itself down to appeal to the taste of the masses. It cannot lie to avoid disturbing conformity.
When Christian Louboutin was asked to speak on how he felt about being criticized for making notoriously uncomfortable shoes, he said:
I don’t want to create painful shoes, but it is not my job to create something comfortable. I try to make high heels as comfortable as they can be, but my priority is design, beauty, and sexiness. I’m not against them, but comfort is not my focus.
Want comfort? Wear New Balances.
While the discomfort that fencers endure prevents broken ribs, the discomfort a writer must adapt to is a certain level of boldness and ego if they want to protect their work from losing meaning. A good essay loses its psychological significance and cultural value if there is too much focus on how comfortable it will sound to its readers. This isn’t about how readable your writing is, this is about the content and what you are trying to express to the audience. Whatever you are trying to say, SAY IT WITH THE FIRE IN YOUR CHEST.
Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.
― Franz Kafka
My favorite psychology professor from college once said that it is a mistake to think of all narcissism as negative or harmful. Success — especially in the creative field — requires a microdosage of subclinical narcissism. “If you aren’t even in love and obsessed with your writing,” he would ask me rhetorically, “why should anyone give a f**k about what you have to say?”
Your work must be meaningful to you before it is worthwhile for anyone else (Note No. 30 from The Pluri Society). And time will tell. Time will sweep away the apathetic or clout-optimized artists who do not give souls to their creations. The only thing worse than losing your readers is losing yourself trying to please everyone.
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