People I Want to Impress

Posted on August 8, 2011


We all want to be liked. 

Or if not liked, at least respected.  Or feared.  Or maybe we would trade being liked for being considered incredibly attractive, but that’s a completely different topic and I don’t want to digress.  

The urge to be recognized as special or interesting or intelligent is strongest in childhood when we strive to find some sort of identity and often base value on what others find impressive. 

This desire to impress others doesn’t always translate into impressive action as evidenced by the three categories of kids:

1. Those kids who worked hard to learn an instrument or develop athletic skill or achieve high grades in order to demonstrate value and win compliments.  Yes, these kids were impressive, but five hours a day of practicing the violin left very little time for receiving compliments.  If  you practice the violin for thirty-five hours in a week and receive three compliments lasting a combined total of one minute, this is a work/compliment ratio of 2100 min:1 min and feels incredibly inefficient.

2. Those kids who had a very generous definition of what would impress others: “Mom, look at me jump into the pool,” and “I bet I can fit this whole sandwich into my mouth at once.”  Although the compliments given for fitting a whole sandwich into one’s mouth are never very sincere, they still result in a favorable ratio of one minute of effort for one minute of compliments, 1 m:1 m.  Although a 1:1 ratio seems attractive at first glance,  most people reach a point where these compliments begin to feel empty–the compliment equivalent of junk food–and begin to crave something more substantial.  

3. Those kids who were content to fantasize about impressing others.  No work is involved and compliments can exist entirely in one’s mind, resulting in a ratio of 0:1.  Of course a 0:1 ratio doesn’t compute mathematically and this is why science has been unable to explain the attraction of daydreaming about accomplishment rather than workings towards actual accomplishment.

Most of my childhood was spent as a category #3 kid.  I estimate 75% of my time was devoted to daydreaming, 10% was devoted to pursuing new impressive skills, and 15% was spent quitting those pursuits and making excuses to my mother to explain why I had quit lessons she had already paid for. 

If I had to bookmark and organize my life into sections, it would probably be most efficient to categorize time periods by the people I wanted to impress.

0-12 years

I wanted to impress everybody including parents, siblings, classmates, and especially celebrities.  If a celebrity found me impressive, that would be a much greater feat than a grandmother pinching my cheeks and telling me I’m special because celebrities are publically recognized as special and my grandmother is not.  The two celebrities I wanted to impress above all others were Olivia Newton-John and Jane Seymour, and I spent many an afternoon staring out the front window and wondering what would happen if either of them walked by and asked for directions, and hopefully I would know the exact fastest way to travel, and Jane Seymour would say in her lovely English accent, “I’m impressed how well you know your way around this neighborhood for such a young boy,” and I would answer, “I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times.”

13-22 years

I culled my list of people I wanted to impress by 50% after eliminating all males and focusing exclusively on females.  My interest in impressing celebrities faded although I still hoped to impress Olivia Newton-John and Jane Seymour.  Of course I wouldn’t have refused an opportunity to impress a male celebrity like George Clooney, but only because his compliments of me would serve as a valuable anecdote for impressing women. 

23-28 years

After finishing college I focused on my career and only cared about impressing my wife and extended family, hoping to prove I could take care of a family.  As a young married man, I had no interest in impressing any females, not even Olivia Newton-John or Jane Seymour, and the lack of interest in attracting the opposite sex resulted in some weight gain, the failure to recognize I had the wrong haircut for five years, and the propensity to wear clothing that didn’t fit because I never tried things on. 

29-32 years

I’ve felt a void in my life the last few years as I’ve run out of people to impress.  I feel my extended family is as impressed as they’ll ever be.  My kids are impressed by everything I do, but they were also impressed by the Star Wars prequels so I don’t take their opinions too seriously.  My wife is too supportive.  Her love is too unconditional and her failure to criticize has weakened my ambition.  Multiple attempts to attract an arch-enemy have failed.  I’ve reached a certain level in my career where I’m not willing to put in any extra time to advance.  I would rather work forty hours and spend evenings with my family and weekends in my secret laboratory than work sixty hours in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder.  I don’t ever want to be CEO of a giant company, and I don’t really even want to work in business anymore.  I had expected career ambition to last me well into my forties, but my wife’s failure to be more materialistic has prevented her from nagging me to make more money and have a more impressive career. 

I need to find somebody I want to impress to provide me with new motivation or one day soon I just won’t be able to get up off of the couch.   

This leaves me with the question: Whom should I be trying to impress?  I’m actively seeking recommendations.

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