I knew a guy in college whose name was Paul. Paul was a classical piano major. He practiced diligently for six hours a day – 3 in the morning and 3 at night – 7 days a week. He had discipline of which I knew nothing. When the time came, I went to Paul’s senior recital. He was serious that night as he sat down at the piano and played. He was also very expressive; his whole upper body pitched and leaned with the tone and pace of each piece. It was impressive. When he finished, he stood by the piano bench and bowed while everyone cheered. We then went into the lobby for refreshments.

I spoke to Paul later that evening. I told him that he had done very well. Paul said thanks. Then he went on to say that while all the people at his recital had been so enthusiastic, they had no idea what had gone into the evening. There had been no one applauding him each time he went into or came out of the practice room. Only he knew what it had taken to get there, and the applause was nice, but did not mean as much as those applauding thought it did.

On the list of things that motivate us to do our creative work, applause cannot be one of them. The praise of others cannot be guaranteed, nor should it be necessary. If it comes, good. But it will likely not come or come infrequently and unpredictably. Even when it does come, those doling it out are really praising you only for what they can see and hear. Applause is simply a few folks noticing, observing what you are doing in the moment. Applause has little to do with your reason for doing. I think this was Paul’s point.