In May of 2009, I was finishing up my sophomore year at Indiana University. Without an internship lined up, I decided to dedicate most of the summer to writing and recording music. That was my path towards perceived significance and I had an ego to match it.
When one of my friends signed up to lead music at a summer camp in Northern Minnesota for the entire month of June, it was an easy decision to tag along. I used it as an excuse to get away from home and focus on music. I also knew a handful of other people volunteering. One of the camp leaders, Jon, was a mentor and close friend.
Before leaving for the trip, Jon and I met for lunch. We talked about how excited we were to spend a month together in Minnesota. He also mentioned how he couldn’t wait to hear the music each night. But he had one recommendation, “Keep it quiet…don’t walk around promoting how you’re a musician to other volunteers or campers. Just let people find out for themselves.”
It’s easy to glance over this at a surface level. But it was a profound lesson for a twenty-year-old, self-assured musician. This was the first lesson I learned in navigating ego. And it’s one I’ve continued to visit on an almost daily basis since.
More action, less talk.
With close to a decade more experience in life, Jon saw straight through my shit. But the way he approached it is what made the difference. He could have shrugged me off as an “idiot teenager” or come down with sharp criticism, causing me to shut down. Instead, he led an open conversation and explained one of life’s most important lessons–especially for those doing creative work.
When you reveal less up front and people discover something interesting about you later on, it builds intrigue. You demand far greater respect than if you volunteered that same information unsolicited. It also adds a layer of depth and authenticity that draws people in.
Action outweighs talk. This approach lends you far more credibility. Those who self-promote and overshare at every chance lose the force behind their voice. It becomes noise, lost to the wind.
People don’t need to know everything about you. In an era that’s obsessed with social media and vulnerability, it might seem counterintuitive. But the less you talk about yourself and the less you reveal up front, the more it draws people in.
The world gravitates towards depth. Not shallow plays at status and virtue signaling.
This is not to say that you should become a hermit and refuse to reveal anything about yourself in conversation. But it is to say that you should use discretion. If you’re able to refrain from oversharing, you provide yourself an opportunity to get beyond your ego. This allows you to actually listen to the person in front of you or shift your focus towards the work that matters.
Live by your principles, not by status.
Meaningful progress and satisfaction come from deep work and realizing your own potential. In my case, it came from the music itself. And now it comes from quiet moments of writing. It’s the creative process that keeps me going. And I know I can sustain that indefinitely. It’s independent of the fleeting highs of recognition.
Pursue the things you love, create meaningful work, and let people find out on their own terms. Whatever you have to say will be far more effective when you’re not using brute force to get your message across.
The further you can distance yourself from your ego or your obsession with personal brand, the greater respect you’ll demand. More action, less talk. Reveal your depth little by little. That’s how you draw people in, build lasting relationships, and create something that strikes a deeper chord in others.
And for God’s sake, please don’t walk around telling people you’re a singer-songwriter.