Hackernoon logoWhy Our Desire For Legitimacy Holds Us Back From Pursuing Our Creative Calling by@poornima

Why Our Desire For Legitimacy Holds Us Back From Pursuing Our Creative Calling

Poornima Vijayashanker Hacker Noon profile picture

@poornimaPoornima Vijayashanker


Photo Credit Paul Bence https://unsplash.com/@bency

When I first started Femgineer back in 2007 I thought it would be nice to have a blog to capture my thoughts and chronicle my work.

I had no grandiose vision for it.

It was just a side project for me.

Over time my blog began bringing in opportunities to speak and teach. I enjoyed all those opportunities. One gig would bring in another, and my calendar filled up pretty quickly.

Soon I began to realize that my actual work was suffering from all the gigs my blog was bringing in.

I didn’t have the time to devote attention to both.

But I couldn’t say no to the opportunities, because I just loved the chance to connect, speak, and teach people.

I had to make a hard decision: quit building software products and start speaking and teaching full-time.

I mulled over the decision for awhile.

I worried what my parents would say, they’d question why I had bothered going college to study engineering.

I worried about what my friends would think, they’d probably poke fun at me and all my speaking.

But two things were crystal clear in my mind: I loved doing it and there were people out there who wanted it.

So with that, I quieted the critical voices in my head and said yes.

The voices don’t go away, in fact they only became louder

My parents asked if I was able to pay my bills. Friends started recruiting me to come and be an engineer at their company thinking that I was somehow desperate for work. While others were baffled about how I could transform a blog into a business.

At first, I was annoyed that they couldn’t see the value in the work that I was doing, and questioned my ability to put a roof over my head.

There would be moments where I’d have a rough day, and their questions would creep into my head.

Eventually, I learned how to resist all the voices and focus on my work.

Calling it work helped, because it meant I was taking it seriously, and the funny thing about others is, when you take your work seriously, they learn to take it seriously too.

Now an offhanded comment doesn’t bother me because in the famous words of MC Hammer I am: “Too legit to quit!” He probably felt the same way after people making fun of his lyrics and parachute pants.

It’s taken me years to quiet the critical voices and feel confident about my work.

Part of the struggle is fighting conventional wisdom that tells we need degrees, accolades, and a steady paycheck. An unconventional path is rife with uncertainty, criticism, and instability.

And once you’ve gone down a conventional path, changing your mind to pursue one that is unconventional is perceived as playful, unsteady, and unprofessional.

When it finally came time to release my work into the world I feared the criticism I would face.

These fears held me back for many years. I resisted going after what I wanted until I learned how to manage them and embrace creative confidence.

It takes courage to pursue a creative calling, and the desire for legitimacy only make it harder.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who gets to determine whether the work you want to do is legitimate, and why do they get to decide?
  • Do you enjoy doing the work?
  • Does it make you happy?
  • Can you figure out a way to support yourself off of it? — Just because it doesn’t initially doesn’t mean it can’t eventually.
  • Do other find value in it? — It doesn’t mean everyone need to find value, just some.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I loved this exchange from The Happiness Project between the author Gretchen Rubin who is figuring out how to transition from a career in law to being a writer, and her sister who has been a writer for many years:

“I worry about feeling legitimate,” I confessed. “Working in something like law or finance or politics would make me feel legitimate.
I expected her to say something like “Writing is legitimate” or “You can switch to something else if you don’t like it,” but she was far more astute.
“You know,” she said, “you’ve always had this desire for legitimacy, and you’ll have it forever. It’s probably why you went to law school. But should you let it determine your next job?”
“You’ve already done highly legitimate things, like clearly on the Supreme Court, but do you feel legitimate?”
“Not really.”
“So you probably never will. Okay. Just don’t let that drive your decisions.”

Now let me know in the comments below, is feeling legitimate holding you back from pursuing a creative calling?

And if you’ve overcome it, please share how, so myself and other readers can learn from your experience!

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