I really wish she hadn’t written this one. It would’ve stung no matter when it came out, but right now just seems cruel. Maybe you saw it and feel similarly exposed. Hopefully not. I’m talking about Ruth Whippman’s searing editorial in The NY Times “Everything Is For Sale Now, Even Us.” Believe me when I say I was tempted to sweep it under the rug. But the insights are just too potent–not to mention a terrific complement to CJ’s recent post about hobbies. This is your last chance to click away. Deep breath:

Almost everyone I know now has some kind of hustle, whether job, hobby, or side or vanity project. Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, visit my Etsy shop, donate to my Kickstarter, crowdfund my heart surgery. It’s as though we are all working in Walmart on an endless Black Friday of the soul.

Being sold to can be socially awkward, for sure, but when it comes to corrosive self-doubt, being the seller is a thousand times worse. The constant curation of a salable self demanded by the new economy can be a special hellspring of anxiety…

The trick of doing this well, of course, is to act as if you aren’t doing it at all — as if this is simply how you like to unwind in the evening, by sharing your views on pasta sauce with your 567,000 followers. Seeing the slick charm of successful online “influencers” spurs me to download e-courses on how to “crack Instagram” or “develop my personal brand story.” But as soon as I hand over my credit card details, I am flooded with vague self-disgust. I instantly abandon the courses and revert to my usual business model — badgering and guilting my friends across a range of online platforms, employing the personal brand story of “pleeeeeeeeeeaassssee.”…

The sad truth is that many of us would probably make more money stacking shelves or working at the drive-through than selling our “thing.” The real prize is deeper, more existential. What this is really about, for many of us, is a roaring black hole of psychological need.

After a couple of decades of constant advice to “follow our passions” and “live our dreams,” for a certain type of relatively privileged modern freelancer, nothing less than total self-actualization at work now seems enough… So we shackle our self-worth to the success of these projects — the book or blog post or range of crocheted stuffed penguins becomes a proxy for our very soul.

In other words, for more and more people in the gig economy, the day-to-day has become an existential meatgrinder. Because no matter how urgent one’s cause or awesome one’s product, when it comes to self-promotion, Whippman is right. It takes superhuman fortitude–what some might call a sociopathic amount–to convince yourself that the message you’re ultimately communicating is anything other than “pleeeeeeeeaassse.” And what’s that please in reference to? Please give me validation, affirmation, admiration, and ultimately love. Please tell me I’m enough. Complete me (dammit).

Did I mention that I have a book coming out in April? Does it matter that the book addresses the very dynamics Whippman describes? I didn’t think so. This is what’s called a double-bind, and Lord have mercy.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with supplication as far as it goes–quite the opposite–it just depends on who our pleas are addressing, and whether that person(s) is even capable of giving a satisfactory answer–or we of hearing it!

Whippman does a stunning job of explaining how the relentless personal branding required by the gig economy produces anxiety first–the promise of “the real prize” that’s always just out of reach no matter how many units you move–and loneliness second, because no one wants to be around someone who’s asking incessantly for their approval but never believing it when they give it. [Oddly enough, that’s sort of what Ralph Breaks the Internet is about.]

The world Whippman describes is a world of–you guessed it–#Seculosity, brimming not so much with entrepreneurs as evangelists of personal enoughness. Evangelism is plenty awkward when you’re stumping for That-Which-Is-Not-You, but it’s even more so when you don’t have much confidence in what you’re evangelizing for, which you clearly don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t be in the situation in the first place. If the whole thing sounds like an ideal playground for narcissists, well, perhaps the shoe fits.

At the same time, anyone who’s tried to promote anything (including Jesus!) knows that there can be something spiritually edifying about the process. To consciously take on the role of the supplicant, i.e., the one doing the asking rather than the answering, is an act of surrender, something akin to faith. We resist it, far more comfortable playing creator than creature, but sometimes, by the grace of God, our survival demands it. In this sense, the “pleeeeeeaasssee” can be an act of humility just as much as self-involvement. Or both, simultaneously.

And that, I’d wager, is why I have such a hard time with self-promotion–not because I find narcissism tacky or immoral but because, whatever I may say to the contrary, I hate vulnerability. I mean, gig economy or no, who isn’t afraid of “putting themselves out there?” Vulnerability means risking rejection, and if I have to visit the courtroom of public opinion, I’d prefer it be as part of a class action suit rather than a naked byline.

I suppose what we’re willing to be vulnerable for says a lot about our values. A recent article in The Atlantic suggests that one reason young people are having less and less sex (and report higher and higher rates of loneliness) has to do with an aversion to the vulnerability inherent to flesh-and-blood relationships. To wit, a big part of the appeal of online dating is that it takes the “Is he/she into me?” uncertainty out of the equation. Yet if Whippman’s gig economy diagnosis is accurate, the real issue is not a lower tolerance for vulnerability itself, so much as having already far surpassed our threshold during the working day. Who knows.

In the midst of this, Advent has come and with it, John the Baptist’s full-throttle promotion of the one whose sandals he was not fit to untie, a Please Follow that echoes through the ages, not the fruit of narcissism but its opposite (as evidenced by John’s willing abdication, just as rare then as it is now).

In John we catch a glimpse of different type of promotion, one born of non-neurotic exuberance or what some would call Spirit-inspired hope, the kind of message that cannot but make itself known, one written in the sky and cried out by rocks. Please follow, goes the plea: Follow the star to the manger, and the manger to the cross, where our deepest supplication–the please behind every please–receives its eternal Yes.

Don’t take my word for it, though. I’m told the Author has a book out, and it’s a doozie.

#rhymeswithvelocity