You’ve got an audience. A secret audience.
They’re not filling stadium seats. They’re not visiting your website or your Facebook page. They may not even see the work you create.
Yet, they powerfully influence the work you produce.
Who’s in that secret audience? The people who, deep down, we most want to impress.
It may be your dad, or other prominent figure in your life, who never said “I’m proud of you.” It may be a former boss who told you that you didn’t have what it takes to succeed in your job. Maybe it’s a former teacher whose expectations you’re still trying to live up to.
Psychologists refer to this as the “looking-glass self.” We judge our sense of worth based on how we perceive others would think of us. Those whom we want to impress can be living or dead; we may know them intimately, or possibly have never even met. In our minds they form a private audience, quietly clapping or booing their unsolicited opinions on our work and worth.
I was largely unaware of this phenomenon in my own life until I started my own business, well into my thirties. I had my share of early successes—and many failures—but was surprised to realize the degree to which I wanted the applause of my former colleagues to validate my choices. Without their knowledge, I set out to impress them, and allowed my opinion about how they might respond to guide me.
The thing about a secret audience though: they’re not watching. I remember clearly the day it dawned on me that I don’t have to do things to impress them, nor do I have to do things the way they might if they were in my situation. I had the freedom to create my business in a way that’s right for me. But that only started when I gave my audience the boot out of my head. (As it turned out, they never asked to be there anyway.)
You have a secret audience, too.
You’ll know who’s in your audience the next time you hear your inner critic telling you that your work sucks, or you don’t have what it takes. That’s when it’s time to give them the boot, too.
If you’d rather not wait until then to discover your secret audience, give some reflective thought to these questions:
- Whose grade matters most? When you put your best work out there—whether it’s something you write, build, or a problem you solve—whose praise is most meaningful to you? Wanting to excel and share your success with the people you love and respect most is a good thing, but filtering your actions and pursuits through the often harsh critique of a secret audience can keep you from moving forward.
- When you’re discouraged, whose voice is most prominent? Discouragement often arises from believing something that isn’t fully true. You may have failed, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Yet, the voices of your proxied secret audience often emphasize untruth, rather than truth. The real test is to ask yourself, if I were sitting across the table from Jesus, what would He say to me?
- Whose “dream team” would I want to be on? If you’re going to have a secret audience, why not stock it with the most positive influences you can? Look at those you admire most and consider what they do. Then when a situation arises, ask yourself, “How would so-and-so handle this? That’s what I did here.
Now, there’s no way to completely tune out this secret audience: they’ll always be there. But we can choose the power that we give them to have a say in our future. The only true freedom is to seek the approval of the One who created us; not the audience of many, but the audience of One.
If you’d like to go a little deeper on this topic, give a listen to my Reinventure Me podcast episode How to beat the need for approval.
Comment below: What ways have you found to discover who’s in your secret audience?