The Quiet Way

By , 12/09/2009
Green Bench by KennoJC

Green Bench by KennoJC

There’s an idea that crops up online from time to time, and lately it seems with more frequency: that if you don’t exist on Google, you don’t exist at all. I think part of this thought is tied to the idea of personal branding, this perceived need to stake a claim for oneself in the digital space in order to matter, to have relevance.

But there’s part of this concept I’m struggling with.

The thing is, I know lots of people that, if you were to do a Google search for them, you’d find very little – if any – information. These aren’t luddites or technophobes. These are people doing substantive, meaningful work, work that regularly has a direct impact on people’s lives. Teachers, educators, nonprofit employees, lawyers (yes, there are some lawyers who do meaningful, important work), doctors, artists… They work in what today’s age might be described as “quiet ways.” Neither they nor someone around them is documenting or sharing their every thought, action, accolade or attribute. But it doesn’t mean that they – or the work they do – is not important or crucial.

I knew someone from a previous job who was a prominent member of his community. In addition to his business and industry leadership, he gave generously to a number of causes. But his philanthropic contributions were all anonymous. His involvement in industry initiatives weren’t accompanied by fanfare. Odds are 9.9 out of 10 that you wouldn’t have ever heard of or recognize his name. His was a “quiet way.”

Maybe it’s me. Despite living in New York, I’m still a Minnesotan at heart, and there’s a general Midwesterness about not wanting to draw too much attention to oneself, or for reserving some skepticism for those who do. (Not to get too Garrison Keillor here.)

But public recognition doesn’t necessarily equal personal, or even professional, reward. And I worry what that means as I read some material with a college student audience, for example, directing them to “start building their personal brand today!”, this idea that somehow a lack of personal publicity is a measure of personal paucity.

Maybe it’s like any other kind of communication. Orators throughout history have demonstrated that there are times when words that speak the loudest are those delivered the softest. We need all types, to be sure. ¬†And there are some jobs or positions that cry out for a louder cry. But the work and the impact are the rewards in the end, aren’t they. Aren’t they?


2 Responses to “The Quiet Way”

  1. Peter Moran says:

    Thanks for sharing this great post Laurel. I can certainly identify with your premise and experiences (including soaking up plenty of Prairie Home Companion as a young child in Minneapolis). As a New York City transplant, my elbows have grown slightly sharper, and my mouth a bit bigger, but I’m still hardly an in-your-face type of person.

    I think the majority of worthwhile, personal endeavors generally go unrecognized. However, many of the people you mentioned do what they do for personal satisfaction without need–or expectations for accolades. In fact, there seems to be an innate sense of humility that drives “quiet types” to act in the first place.

    As people rush to claim an online presence and build a personal online brand, it’s easy to confuse quality with quantity. I find bloggers whose material resonates with a small audience in a meaningful or personal way, much more appealing than people who post garbage in massive forums just to get their name out.

    A person can come up in a Google search, but this still says very little about creating a meaningful presence. When I Google my name, Peter M Moran, it comes up first because of a book I reviewed on years ago. This is hardly something I point to as a demonstration of personal achievement, as it required little more than an ability to form an opinion and type.

    I know your question is rhetorical, but my opinion is that the work and impact are indeed the rewards. I know others disagree, but my opinion has always been to let your quality work speak for itself–in career, family, charitable efforts, etc.

    • Laurel Hart says:

      Yes, I think that’s definitely part of it, confusing quantity with quality. I know in my experience it’s taken me time to develop a more critical eye in who I respect and trust.

      Also, in looking at this a few days later, I maybe should have clarified that I’m thinking here about personal presence, not corporate or organizational presence. That’s a completely different bag of worms, with different expectations for participation.

      Thanks for your thoughts-

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