What Others Think is Important vs. What You Think is Important

“I learned in my 20’s that [getting attention from others] just doesn’t change anything, and that whatever you get paid attention for is never the stuff that you think is important about yourself anyway.” – David Foster Wallace in 10 year old interview with Charlie Rose (end of segment)

I know people who shrug off media profiles and similar attention — they say they don’t care, even when the press is positive. I’ve never really believed this. We all have egos, and they can be injured or inflated at any stage of our career.

But I think everyone who’s ever been the subject of attention would agree exactly with Wallace’s quote: the attention rarely focuses on what you actually think is important about yourself.

This doesn’t mean the attention is always misguided — you can’t blame the press for inquiring about the CEO’s thoughts on his industry, no matter how badly the he wants to talk about his charity efforts. But other times, especially when it’s a personal portrait, the attention is shallow and does miss nuance.

Having a blog, I suppose, is one way to broadcast to the world what you feel is important about yourself and your work. My mentor Brad Feld would otherwise be pigenholed as a just another successful VC if not for his prolific blogging, a great deal of which is personal in nature, an indication that his marriage, friends, books, and sense of humor are as or more important as anything else in his life. It follows that interviews with him now probe beyond “How can entrepreneurs raise money?” into areas like work-life-balance.

I think it’s important for any person or company that’s the subject of attention to remember that what others focus on is not necessarily what you should be focusing on or are focusing on. This is part of the larger theme of having one ear open to the world outside and one ear facing inward to your own thoughts and emotions. It’s a balance between caring about what others think of you and what you think of yourself.

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