When the Applause Isn’t Enough

If we gave our son free reign over YouTube consumption, he’d watch endless amounts of crazy fishing shows and Dude Perfect.

He knows every humongous fish species in every body of water. And he knows every trick shot and crazy thing the Dude Perfect guys have done for the last however many years.

A few weeks ago, when I was together with most of our best college buddies shooting guns in the country, we told stories about how sad (and probably fortunate) we were that we didn’t have video cameras in our pocket during college.

If we did, there would have been endless amounts of evidence of our jackassery (it should be a word).

We mastered the art of the fake fall, especially in crowded spaces.

Down stairs, off bikes, into road signs, with books in hand, into each other, over handrails, on top of construction barrels, in crowded lecture halls, you name it, we attempted it.

Each time an effort to one up the guy before you. Each time the stakes raising just that much more.

And really, the attempt was all to garner as much public humiliation as possible.

We certainly would have been YouTube famous if we weren’t so old.

Beyond the public reaction we’d receive, the real prize though was the applause and respect from each other.

The respect that came from knowing you just brought it.

That applause felt tremendous.

Fast forward a decade and a half, when I started to really get to know myself and stop running from my pain, and I began to scratch the surface of just how many ways I was still performing for the applause of others.

I had this cool career, amassed neat experiences, had a beautiful wife and kids, wrote blogs for bigtime outlets, had a “platform”, and spent lots of time crafting the parts of me I wanted everyone to see on Facebook and Instagram.

Lots of people were clapping.

                                       But how could you not clap at these socks our daughter wore recently?

As one client of mine told me in response to the pressure he faces in his job, he said, “They’re used to the show and they expect the show to keep getting better. So I have to bring the show.”

Over time, I started to bring the show. Not my truest, most authentic self. I brought on stage the stuff I felt would give me the highest chance of applause.

Like my efforts at Mizzou to one up the last fake fall.

And I was in denial to be certain, but the applause felt really damn good.

Our counselor has helped me see this, but the little scared boy parts of me think I’ll be rejected and abandoned without love if all of me is seen, not just the onstage parts.

Maybe he helps everyone see the same thing, but for me it felt especially true.

When the applause came, it felt good. And to be sure the applause kept coming, I kept doing my best tap dance and sang my best song.

But eventually the applause gets pretty lonely. And the act gets tired.

And the guy doing the dancing really just wants to sit down, get some rest and be told he’s loved by the ones closest to him.

Not just that he’s entertaining to the masses.

If any of this resonates with something you’re going through, you should read Scary Close by Donald Miller. It was really helpful for me as I processed this stuff.

He talks about dropping the act and finding true intimacy, which doesn’t come on the stage with people applauding.

It comes in the quiet, intimate, vulnerable and frankly, sometimes pretty scary moments.

Because it’s impossible to be fully known when the focus is on gaining applause.

And it’s impossible to be intimately connected to yourself when your focus is on entertaining and earning the attaboys or attagirls of those around you.

But once you realize what an empty promise that feeling delivers, you can start to experience how much better it is to drop the act and find true intimacy.

Maybe it starts when you start to say to yourself, “it’s time for me to step off stage and let the rest of me start to emerge instead of letting it hide in the shadows…”

It’s quieter there. And richer.

But it won’t make you YouTube famous like me and my fake-falling buddies should have been.

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