So I definitely do care what others think. But I think I lucked out by getting enough validation to get past the apathy. At least I've realized it's not just skill or technical merit in terms of getting noticed: much of it is just plain luck.
On a sidenote, participating in photosharing across Flickr and Tumblr has really helped destroy any solipsism I might have had...If attention/validation is something you care about, you have to work to get it like any other of the anonymous people on the Internet. This is not a mindset that most journalists realize when they try striking it on their own, without a masthead to tie their name to.