The Approval Trap...

For as long as I can remember, I've doggedly sought after approval. Approval from my parents, my friends, my teachers, my wife, and countless others. I've striven to be the best, the nicest, the most helpful -- in other words, perfect. The problem with perfection is that it is a state that can never be attained. Yet, for so many of us, we punish ourselves relentlessly in pursuit of it. We feel as though the approval of others will somehow fill that seemingly insurmountable void. But what if we just stopped? What if you and I decided that this fruitless endeavour is one we no longer want to be a part of?

It's these very questions that I've asked myself over the last few months, turning the figurative spotlight inwards and attempting to find what drives me to such a languished state. Certainly, the fear of 'not being enough' plays a huge part; it's one of the most common fears we all have, and causes untold misery to the human psyche if left to muck about willy-nilly. I continued to trace the path and found my self confidence to be lacking -- another malady I've allowed to dictate a good portion of my life. I grew up feeling like nothing I ever accomplished was good enough; partly due to being pushed to always strive for better -- for more -- and partly believing it to be actual fact (hello, faulty self confidence). It's one thing to have let these demons dictate my youth -- self-limiting beliefs affect us all -- but as an adult, I know that I have the power to change that.

Why then, at 35, do I find myself finally stepping into confidence, and beginning to dismiss the need for approval from others? Not because I drew a metaphorical line in the sand and said, "Enough!". No clear epiphany or moment of unreal clarity. Rather, it has taken a whole lot of work and introspection. This year has been one of immense growth for me, and it's because I decided to make self-improvement a priority. Through practicing mindfulness and awareness, I likened incessantly seeking approval from others to any other bad habit I possess: I would go through the same destructive routine in hopes of reaping some reward. That reward was ultimately disappointment and emotional distress; now, isn't it whole-heartedly masochistic for us to reward ourselves with negativity? I finally got down to brass tax and asked myself: what am I gaining defining my life by the pursuit of approval from others?

My answer, to no surprise, was: not a hell of a lot. If I couldn't be happy and confident in my work and deeds, then why should I expect others to be? It wasn't until I fully stepped into my truth -- living and contributing in the way that felt most real and true to me -- that I was finally able to begin making changes. Continuing to live how I thought others wanted me to was not only unhealthy, but also unfair to myself and others. No one outside me expected perfection; rather, it was a self-imposed state that I projected onto others. It was this realization that finally shook me from the trapped, almost victim-like, mentality that I was in, and allowed me to move forward in a much more confident state.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I still fall into the old habitual trap every so often. The difference, however, is that I don't find myself in that state nearly as much, and can bounce back from it so much faster. I've come to understand that while not everyone will always approve of my actions or intentions, that even their 'disapproval' can be seen as a learning opportunity; by re-framing 'disapproval' into a positive -- a kind of constructive criticism -- I can grow and benefit from it. Adopting a mindset of growth and abundance has also been exceedingly helpful -- especially when dealing with that pesky perfectionism. I've accepted that I'm a constant work-in-progress, with so much more growing and learning to do; I own my mistakes and learn from them along the way.

Always remember that you are the only one who can define you. Whilst having the approval of others is a wonderful thing, don't let it be your only goal -- there is no way to make everyone happy. Rather, by living your truth and always being open to learning and growing, you can be confident you are seeking the only approval that really matters: your own.

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