The Error in Justifying your Work


Harvey began telling me what I should be doing with my life. I had known the guy less thanfive minutes and now he lectured me about how my mistaken approach. My attendance at this mixer was to support a friend, but seemed likeanother place where I neededto justify myself.

Harvey (not his real name) boasted about his own success. He told me about his nonprofit,how helpful he was to others, and how well his life was going. I listened as he shared his philosophy on life in great detail before he asked about me.

“I’m a writer and journalist. I’m at an alternative school called Experience Institute looking at different ways to tell stories.”

This was my two-sentence answer refined over1,000 tellings. I iterated away from terms like "creative storyteller" and"alternative storytelling" to simply "writer and journalist." Next, I explained to Harvey about designing my own education around apprenticeships.

“So what have your apprenticeships been? How are you going to do this in the real world?”

My apprenticeships, of course, have been a bit messy. For those just tuning in,I began at a startup in New York City that fell through.Then, I wrote a novel, but I am nowignoring the book because I don’t like the story. I’m currently working for Ei, helping them with the Leap Kit (another term I have to define for Harvey).

Once we get through this introduction, conversations of this typefollow a general pattern. Harvey asked how I could do this in real life. Without letting me answer, hetold me that I should think about marketing or copywriting. He wasoblivious to the idea that I might have given my year some thought.

Harvey explained how I’m mistaken on the term storytelling and he had figured out my life for me. He repeated the mantra I’ve heard so often about how “everything is storytelling.” I bit my lip and nodded along politely.

Finally, I extricated myself from the conversation. I just told the next person who asked thatI’m a journalist and work freelance—a fallback with short follow-up answers. Ifind myselfin the same conversations over and over at these events:

What do you? What are you trying to do? How have I done something similar?

I worry about overexposure toother people’sfeedback and opinions. Learning and making connections through discussionisimportant.However,the Harvey-type interactions are not about me, but about validating someone else. People eager to share ideas without considering me only adds to my burden of proof, rather than eases it.

This influenceshow I approach conversations. I try first to understand where the person is coming from and create a sense of empathyearly.It turns out that not everyone needs my help. Giving unsolicited advice is a lot less valuable than trying to learn what the other person knows.

If I have helpful suggestions I add those later without challenging the person's philosophy. Who am I to say what works in an always-evolving world?

I want to get to a place where my work speaks for itself. I’m not there yet, but I know I can't get there by chasing the approval and ideas ofeveryone.I’ll work on my craft, continue my personal projects and learn where I can. My justification can come later.

Derek Kessinger

Derek is fascinated by a great story’s ability to stir inspiration, draw out laughter, and spark imagination. Narrative plays out in a variety of his passions, including, journalism, sports and music. Despite nearing the 20,000-tweet mark, he believes in crafting high-quality stories on thematic issues that resonate outside of a single moment in time. Derek’s professional experience includes work in print, radio and digital media as a credentialed Denver sports media reporter. This year, he’s continuing to tell stories through new mediums.

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