Years ago, I heard Ellen DeGeneres talk about the joy and pain of live performances. On any given night, she could have everyone in an audience of thousands in stitches. Everyone, that is, except for one person. She said there always seemed to be one audience member who refused to crack a smile, and that’s the person she couldn't stop thinking of while on stage. It doesn’t matter if he was simply a curmudgeon, suffering from some form of facial paralysis, or had just lost his job and pension. If she couldn't make that one guy laugh, she has failed.
For me, and maybe for you too, that performance happens on almost a daily basis. Every client has to be over-the-moon thrilled, while every partner and every reader has to be oozing with giddy satisfaction. If they don’t think I'm the cat’s pajamas, one thing is certain: I've let them and myself down.
Ever wonder about what happens when strivers like me inevitably disappoint or screw up? Picture those tacky old Western movies. A gal swings through the door of the saloon, the spurs of her boots clinking. Before she can even take two steps forward, she’s met with a hail of gunfire. As each bullet pierces her body, she swivels to the left, then to the right, then back again. She takes a few staggering steps forward before falling to her knees, pausing for one last breath, and hitting the ground face first. And that, my friends, is on a good week.
I’ve come up with a name for those of us who torture ourselves as we try to make everyone around us happy. We are the Internalizers.
Internalizers are those who, like me, think we’re somehow cosmically connected to everything bad that happens on this planet. I happen to be the Internalizers’ poster child.
Every Sunday, I get The New York Times delivered to my home. Before I’ve flipped to page two, I’ve already berated myself for not starting a foundation, volunteering to work with the disenfranchised, or following up with the student government group I founded in my junior year of high school. Every global wrongdoing seems to somehow be related to my laziness and antipathy.
Balancing out the people like me are the Externalizers. When something crappy happens to them, Externalizers can shrug it off, say it happened for reasons beyond their control, and move on. Oh, how I simultaneously loathe and envy the Externalizers, the lucky folks who don’t agonize over every pitfall. If you can blame a family member, teacher, ex-spouse, friend, former boss, or anyone else entirely for a situation you were that involved in, I want to learn from you. I want to be like you. Actually, I want to be you. Teach me.
This week, for example, it didn’t take much more than a disappointed email from a colleague and a rejection letter from some strangers to have me laid out on the coach, watching reruns of Tabatha Takes Over on Bravo and wondering how and when I threw my life away. This, despite a tremendous jump in traffic in my business’s online platform, a new program set to launch, two companies who will soon be signed on as clients, and one of the best pieces I think I’ve ever written (Mom Took a Sex Class – and Liked It).
So why is it that when I, like Ellen, have the audience in the palm of my hand I focus instead on the one person who won't budge? Why can’t I consider myself successful if a few people are dissatisfied? We all know that we can’t please everyone. And we shouldn’t even try. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself as another work week begins and I try, yet again, to become... (dramatic music) the Externalizer.
The pic comes from StyleMoms and I think is totally perfect since my nickname in college was Wonder Widom.