Something happens to us, usually with the arrival of adolescence. Where once we were playful children, happily engaged with our toys and imaginations, emerging hormones change everything.
Suddenly, we become concerned about our looks. How we fit in with others. Our popularity.
We start paying closer attention to our clothes and emulate celebrities and the popular kids at school. After all, who wants to be an outsider? The awkward kid who eats lunch alone. Or, the last one to be picked for a sports team during physical education.
The Inner Ring
In 1944, theologian and author C. S. Lewis gave a speech known as, “The Memorial Oration at King’s College, the University of London.” The title of the speech was, “The Inner Ring.”
Lewis spoke about the reality of societal, work and social hierarchies. Specifically, our intense yearning to become part of the “in” group, or what Lewis called, “The Inner Ring.”
We long for the “tangible profits” of the Inner Ring. They include power, money, liberty to break the rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasions of discipline, and the “delicious sense of secret intimacy.”
The problem is that the Inner Ring is a lie.
The Sound Craftsmen
Becoming part of some inner ring or secret circle doesn’t bring the joy you long for. C.S. Lewis noted:
“As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed, there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
Often, the thing we think we need is wrong. The answer to our longing was within us all along. The actor Jim Carrey alluded to this in the following statement:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
So, what’s the answer to fitting in, getting ahead and personal happiness?
According to C.S. Lewis:
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.”
When we look past the “delightful intimacies and confidentialities” of some inner circle and focus instead on our creative passions and craftsmanship, we end up creating our circle. We consort with like-minded craftsmen. As C.S. Lewis noted:
“And if in your spare time you consort simply with people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.”
To others, it might look like an inner circle, but it’s really just a few people meeting to share their craftsmanship. This is what we call friendship, and it trumps all the Inner Rings.
Illustration by Weiss.
The Search for Social Validation
Some people have to share every bit of viral content that comes their way on social media. It’s because they’re more interested in social validation than creating quality content.
Other people emulate every trick, technique, and approach used by their online heroes. They adopt crazy headlines, profanity, and infernal popups.
Before long, their blog or website looks just like all the bloggers they idolize. But it’s not original. It’s just a cheap imitation.
Yes, there are good and bad website practices out there. Design matters, and good headlines and copywriting can help generate interest.
But in the end, it always comes down to authentic, quality content. Too many aspiring writers, artists, and bloggers are led astray searching for social validation. They double down on Facebook ads to get a few more likes. It’s sort of like paying people for compliments.
Some of the best creators out there ignore what everyone else is doing, and follow the beat of their own drummer.
Consider the late Fred Rogers, star of the children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. A new documentary about Fred Rogers just hit theaters. In a trailer for the film, one woman notes:
“If you take all the elements that make good television, and do the exact opposite, you have Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star—yet it worked.”
It worked because it was real. It was authentic. Fred Rogers’ passion for helping children was undeniable. Rogers himself said that he never felt the need to dress up in a costume or pretend to be something he was not.
The Fancy People
Fred Rogers once appeared on the Charlie Rose show. Rose complimented Rogers on what a calm, soft-spoken, centered person he was.
Clearly, Fred Rogers was a sound craftsman. A slender, gentle man with a passion for helping children, Fred Rogers stayed true to his heart. He created his own circle of love, compassion, and kindness.
At one point in the interview, Rogers talked about leaving the television studio and encountering a Down syndrome boy on the street. The boy immediately hugged Rogers.
Rogers explained to Charlie Rose that “…people who are not the fancy people in this world… are the ones who seem to nourish my soul.”
There’s a lesson there for the rest of us. Stop trying to be one of the fancy people. One of the inner ring, elite, influencers or insiders. If a Hollywood icon like Jim Carrey tells us it’s not the answer, perhaps he’s right?
Focus instead on your authenticity. On your unique gifts, talents, and passions. Because when you become the sound craftsmen, other sound craftsmen will be drawn to you.
You’re no longer an insecure adolescent. As a creative person, you must reach deep down inside yourself. Unleash the real you. Free your creative voice. Share it with like-minded craftsmen.
Together, you will enjoy the most fulfilling inner ring of all. True friendship.
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