My younger sister, a talented musician and vocalist, is afraid to write and share original music because she’s afraid of rejection.
“What if people think it’s bad?” she said, when I pressed her on why she’s not writing new material.
A Grammy-winning musician who teaches at the university she planned to attend after high school was making promises to her.
He was going to assemble the finest musicians he knew to play her music in studio.
He was going to get her studio time in Los Angeles and a record deal.
He was going to do all kinds of things for her.
Open doors. Grant opportunity.
But then he didn’t. He didn’t do any of the things he said he was going to do. And now my sister feels like she failed. Because the gatekeeper didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Because she’s waiting for permission to create her art.
“You don’t need permission to make what you love,” I told her. “Make it and share it. Good art will always be found and shared.”
You can see the doubt. The fear.
It’s the same look I have when I make excuses for… anything. It’s because I’m afraid too. It’s because I don’t know whether I’m good enough.
At writing. At work. At being a father. At being someone’s romantic partner.
“Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds?” I asked her.
As I explained it, I realized that the Rule of Thirds applies to more than just art.
That all of us are misunderstood. By someone. By our partners. By our parents. By our children. By our friends. By our co-workers. By our supporters. By our critics.
We Are All Misunderstood
It’s because we’re the only species of which I’m aware in which two of us can look at the exact same thing and describe it completely differently.
Did she leave him for someone else? Or did he drive her into the arms of another?
Is that same-sex couple’s union an abomination? Or an example of love and courage in its purest form?
Was that deadly attack an act of terrorism—of pure evil? Or an instance of patriotism and the pursuit of justice?
Sometimes it can be as simple as words on a page. One sentence.
Without visual cues. Without tone of voice. Without knowing how the other person felt when they wrote the sentence, we apply how we’re feeling in a particular moment to fill in the knowledge gap. To apply meaning (that’s probably only correct a third of the time) to the sentence.
Relationships break over this type of misunderstanding all the time.
The Rule of Thirds
The rule exists to help artists understand and deal with criticism, but I really think we all need it as people to understand that the world does not see us as we see ourselves. Sometimes, that’s good. Othertimes, it’s bad.
Here’s the rule:
With anything you do or create, one third of people will love it (or you); one third will hate it (or you), and the remaining third won’t care at all.
This is an idea worth embracing, because there are a lot of people out there like me who aren’t very thick-skinned and who have an unhealthy desire to be liked and accepted by everyone.
I might get 40 nice comments on a post, but once in a while someone will let me have it, and I tend to focus on, and feel shitty about, that one comment. Should I ever expand beyond the WordPress bubble, I imagine this will get infinitely worse.
Most people I meet and know seem to like me. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they are being fake. I guess I don’t care as long as they don’t make me feel bad.
But there are others who clearly don’t like me.
Why does this person over here think I’m so nice and makes me feel cared for and respected, while this other person makes me feel like the lowest form of pond scum imaginable?
There are people who think I’m a shitty writer.
Why do these people over here think I’m special and talented while these other people think I’m worthless?
Should we spend our time trying to convince all the people who don’t like, respect or appreciate us, that they’re wrong?
That seems like a colossal waste of energy.
Because the truth is that one third of people are always going to think you suck. Let them.
Another third won’t pay any attention at all. I don’t pay attention to all kinds of things. How can I fault them for that?
Then there’s that last group.
The people who save our lives.
Make Things For One Person (Or 2.4 Billion)
In your artistic pursuits, everyone has one raving fan.
In your life, you have the equivalent of that.
So, maybe we need to be making things for that person. Living for that person.
Maybe we should be making things for the third in our corner. Maybe we should be living for those people.
There are people in my life who think I walk on water. People who tell me I’m their favorite writer. People who think I’m smart and kind and worth something.
Why not live for them? Why not write for them?
People will doubt us. Hate us. Tell us that we think, feel and do things that we actually do not think, feel or do.
People will tell us we’re bad.
That our work has no merit.
That we’re not good enough.
That our honest efforts toward love, friendship, and living a life geared toward constant improvement is something else entirely. That it’s dishonest. That it’s selfish.
We all have critics. Sometimes, harsh ones.
People who will never change their minds. Because they won’t. Or because they can’t.
The results are the same either way.
I know I can’t please everyone. Even people I really want to.
My best isn’t good enough.
It never will be.
And that’s just going to have to be okay.
There are about 7.25 billion people on this planet. One third of them are going to think I’m a stupid asshole. One third of them will never, ever care, no matter what I’m doing.
But that last third?
They’re going to love me.
They’re going to love you.
That’s 2.4 billion people.
People who will think you’re amazing just the way you are.
People who believe we’re more than what we think we are.
Wow. 2.4 billion.
That’s a lot of people to reach.
We better get started.