We all do it. Whether you admit or not, we all seek some level of approval from others.
Working hard while hard at work
Whether we are competing with others, ourselves or our personal demons and insecurities. The thought of approval is something that motivates millions of people every day to make important decisions in their relationships, careers and how they choose to spend their time.
Have you ever sat down for 30 minutes and thought about what motivates you to strive for validation or affirmation (from yourself or others) for the things you have done? On the opposite side, have you thought about why you avoid affirmation or accepting credit for the good things you’ve accomplished?
I struggle with the downsides of both. I’m surrounded by friends and family that are also afflicted by the notion that third-party approval is a requirement for us to achieve contentment within ourselves. I was raised by a really smart, hard working father who came from a long line of blue-collar-minded “get it done, whatever it takes” men. It’s an old school culture of no complaints, or attaboys. You just take care of business. You push through and finish the job and that should be enough validation for you.
There is much to be said for tenacity and hard work. All the truly successful people we see and admire in the world got where they are because of it. I’m forever grateful for my work ethic and credit my father/grandfathers for perpetuating this. I couldn’t survive this life without it.
Strength in balance, strength in vulnerability
Like everything in life though, emotional moderation is key to survival and being at peace. The way that I was raised had the best intentions and yielded a hard working man in me. While I’m very thankful for the positives, it’s important that I continually remind myself that if I approach life 100% from this school of thought, there’s a chance I can fall into the trap of extremes where anyone that struggles around me should be considered annoying and lazy. Resentment can build. More importantly, it can render me incapable of acknowledging or “approving of” the struggles and challenges that I am experiencing while working through the normal trials and tribulations. This is a very poisonous set of patterns and makes it hard to be nurturing for others AND myself during those times in life when nurturing is most appropriate and necessary.
The resulting backlash of how I was raised created a person that has a hard time accepting compliments, accepting or asking for help, and in general, sharing important and personal information with really close trusted friends that are there for me when I’m down. “I don’t lean on ANYBODY” has always been my motto. That motto however is bullshit. It’s a stop-gap measure to band-aid the real issue of feeling uncomfortable with failure, being vulnerable to the rest of the world, and having allowed my self-worth to be affected by a sneaky little power couple called guilt and shame.
It’s important to remember the following:
1. If you give someone a compliment for their hard work, you aren’t perpetuating ‘being a wimp’ or emasculating them. You are motivating them to work harder to do their best for the right reasons. It takes a strong person to work really hard. However, it takes a much stronger person to be open and vulnerable and to encourage others to embrace failure and struggles that they sometimes might not be able to power through. We can’t win them all. Statistics tell us that we have to be cool with that.
2. If someone gives you a compliment, say “thank you.” Simple. Right? Not always. If you do what I still struggle with from time to time and act uncomfortable and coy and avoid eye contact when someone says something nice to you, you are not being respectful of them and their extra effort to make you feel good. The real problem I realized was that there was shame attached to the approval process for me because my self-worth was associated with how well I hid my anxieties, frustrations, insecurities and fears – aka “how tough I was.”
3. It’s ok to say something is hard or difficult for you or others. Anyone not willing to acknowledge how difficult things are to others when queried is only putting that negative energy somewhere else to be processed and dealt with.
Remember that it’s ok to express distaste for a situation or a struggle that you are facing. It doesn’t make you a wimp or a slacker. It makes you a human.