Stroking the creative

Because big egos are almost always fragile egos

By Ellen Margulies

My mother called me in the middle of my workday today to play me a message from her answering machine. “Can you hear that?” she kept interrupting, speaking over the recorded message from one of her church friends. “Yes, Mom, if you would just stop talking,” I said through gritted teeth.

I want to validate my Ugly Mugs barista today, who made this lovely latte art even though I ordered it to-go!

Mom, a natural-born storyteller, loves to build a little suspense, so I had no idea where this was going. And since our phone calls often end with things like, “You really need to… (fill in the blank here with some hideous task like ‘get a root canal every 3 weeks,’ ‘clean out our attic in mid-July,’ ‘refinance your mortgage by this afternoon or you’ll just be throwing money away,’ etc.; I wasn’t super-hopeful.)” But, delightful turn of events, my parents’ church friend was calling to tell them how much she loved 5 to Try, the food column I write for our local paper every Wednesday, how funny it was, how hungry it made her, how much she looked forward to it.

Tears started to sting my eyes. That’s how grateful I felt that someone who doesn’t know me, isn’t related to me and has nothing to gain and no favor to ask just wanted to compliment my work. I thanked my mother for sharing it with me and told her how I often feel like I work in a validation vacuum, to which she said, “I knew you’d appreciate that.” (Moms are great sometimes. They should have their own holiday.) This particular church friend has passed on such compliments to my parents before, but to hear it in her own voice was actually very special.

Granted, my father emails me religiously every week to tell me how much he loves the column or, if I whiffed something, how I COULD’VE done it better, but he’s my pop and therefore slightly biased, and sometimes I just need more pats on the back from the outside world. My mom’s share reminded me how important that is for all of us who create.

We can and sometimes do create just for the sake of creating. We do it to make ourselves happy or work out some problem or express a feeling. But when we share that creativity with the world, whether that world is the 47 people who read my food column who aren’t blood relatives or your 2,028 Instagram followers or the 9 million strangers who watch the Super Bowl half-time show, we creators are just holding our collective breath, waiting for some sign that unzipping our outsides and revealing a bit of vulnerability wasn’t a colossal fail.  

Validation is more than a thank-you; it’s a gift. A gift of connection.

remembering taylor swift
Beast of Ego needs love, too. (“Remembering Taylor Swift,” 3×3 acrylic on canvas, by Ellen Margulies)

It’s not that I’m some egomaniacal self-centered beast that has to be fed a steady diet of compliments. Although, I guess I kind of am that beast, at times. I guess a lot of us creatives can be, at times. But if you look underneath that rock, if I may be allowed to switch metaphors here, what you’ll find on that dark, wormy underside is a gaping maw of self-doubt and insecurity, perhaps the remnants of a 5-year-old who just wanted his drawing posted on the fridge or a middle-schooler who never got up the nerve to enter the talent show. We’re all just ugly beasts wandering around with a big bag of rocks, looking for love and validation.


So the next time you encounter something you love, be it a poem or a pizza, or you see the person who created the thing you love, let them know. Click the “like” button. Tap the heart. Send the email, make the phone call, or blow a kiss to the passing celebrity and call out, “I LOVE YOUR WORK!”

Turns out that kind of thing never, and I mean never, gets old.   

P.S. Two final notes here: 1. There are probably people out there who are so self-actualized that they don’t really need the approval of others. Please share your wisdom in the comments below, and go easy on the rest of us for our neediness. 2. Laura, your blog post last week on creative influencers was freaking awesome. You are DEFINITELY one of my influencers!!


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