Trying to gain others’ approval—or even just worrying about their opinion of you—is a bit of a pandemic. If you are one of the stricken, this comes as no surprise. If you’re immune to this particular affliction, consider yourself blessed.
I’m constantly thinking about new ways to lessen approval-seeking. New ways to quiet the voice that blathers on about what so-and-so must think. Perspectives and practices that help you move past the preoccupation with opinions that may be of you, but are not you.
It’s about them, not you
The first thing I usually point out is that the way others’ view you has nearly nothing to do with you.
This isn’t just a way of trying to make you feel better. It’s scientifically, empirically true.
Evaluations are based on how the judge sees things and how the judge feels about him or herself. Features of the person being judged play a relatively tiny role.
Psychologists know this as fact. They say scientific-sounding things, like: there is much more variability between judges than within judges when it comes to a single target. Which basically means that the one doing the judging brings their own stuff to the table, and that’s what drives their opinions.
How they see you is about them, not you. The more personal you make it, the more pain you experience. And the more inaccurate you are.
I just found this quote alongside a picture of a really cute carrot: “When someone says they don’t like carrots, we don’t blame the carrot.” –Brooke Castillo.
I’ve never blamed a carrot, have you?
It makes us their prisoner
Another point I typically make is that changing yourself to win approval is essentially handing your personal power to someone else.
“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.” –Lao Tzu
Anita Moorjani had a near death experience which she writes about in her awesome book, Dying to Be Me. She came through that experience knowing that your purpose in life is to be fully and authentically you.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” –Judy Garland
When you’re focused on what they think, you’re being a second rate version of them. You are buying into the lie that they know better than you do, even about who you should be.
Would you want your kid doing that? We teach our children and young adults to ‘Be Yourself’. If everyone else jumped off a bridge, yada, yada… We know how uniquely amazing our children are and it’s agonizing when they don’t see themselves that way—when they deny their own beauty in order to be like someone else.
We reason that they don’t have a solid sense of identity yet. They are still figuring out who they are; they’re still impressionable.
But what about you? Yes, you…the 30 year old teacher with a classroom full of raving little fans. You, the 45 year old woman who has raised a remarkable family. You, the 60 year old grandmother who has been to hell and back.
Why are you still jumping off the bridge just because everyone else is?
Isn’t it time to own who you are and be yourself already?
It’s a colossal waste of time
Even if you could win over the harshest of all judges…why? Why spend your most precious resources—your own time and energy—on such a meaningless goal?
Do you ever wonder what else you might accomplish with the time and energy you devote to worrying about what others’ think?
There is no limit to what you could do with that much channeled energy.
If you live to be 95 years old, you have less than 35,000 days in your life. Total. That’s it. If you’re mature enough to be reading this, a large of portion of them are already gone.
How many of them have you spent trying to squash who you are to make other people happy?
How many more do you plan to devote to that goal?
If you’re sitting there saying, “I get it, but how do I stop seeking approval?” you first decide to stop. The only way you will ever feel good enough is by thinking that you are. That starts with your own decision.
Believing that someone else can like you enough to make you like yourself is a lie. It’s just another form of looking outside of ourselves for what can only come from within.
You decide that fitting in is outdated and overrated. Leave that to the teenagers to work through. You, my friend, know who you are and it’s exactly who you were always meant to be.
Step into your own skin. Slowly, if you have to. Ease into it. But get in there and get familiar with how it feels when you’re not trying to deny it or hide it or change it. Own it.
Then, do damage control as necessary. When you start questioning your worth, wondering how someone else is seeing you, wishing you were different, notice that tendency and love yourself through it. Blow yourself a kiss or give yourself a high five for deciding to inhabit your own identity.
And then carry on with your day.
You can do this. It only feels tough because you have so much practice making other people’s opinions more important than your own. But once you turn the tide and start a new practice, things change quickly and you get to spend the next 20,000 or so days in a being exactly who you are.
(Photo by Jori Remus)