5 Steps to Taking Back the Power of Approval and Accomplishing Your Dreams

Denise_Lee1.jpg

A few weeks ago, I decided to take my kids to a local play area so that they could burn some energy.  Naturally, much of the neighborhood had the same idea, and there were close to 40 kids running, jumping, climbing and sliding. Among them was a toddler, maybe about two years old, who, for purposes of this story, I will call Little Billy.

The parents and caregivers sat at benches nearby while the kids played. They sipped coffee, browsed their phones, and chatted amongst each other a bit as the kids ran happily around.  

Until, suddenly, without any warning, Little Billy came sliding down the slide without his pants. Completely bare-bottom.

Well. You’d think a fire broke out or someone found explosives by the rate at which parents evacuated children from the play area, shielding the young impressionable eyes, and demanding to know what god-awful parent is responsible for Little Billy’s shameful behavior.

The mom wasn’t hard to spot.  She was the utterly mortified woman racing toward the play area to scoop up her giggling nudist; the red-faced lady apologizing incessantly to no one in particular, yet everyone at the same time as she as she hurried past the faces of disgust in an attempt to get the hell out of dodge.  

As I watched the situation unfold, I couldn’t help but think: He’s a baby. He took off his pants. What’s the problem?

The Problem

Little Billy’s mom was in a state of flux over the opinions of some over-reactive strangers.  

We can relate, can’t we?

How many times have you found yourself considering, “Man, what those people must think of me?”

I have that exact thought at least once a day. The notion that we should all “dance like no one is watching” scares the daylights out of me, because what if they are watching  – what will they think?

If you are anything like Little Billy’s mom and me, you’ve found yourself at some point or another wrapped up in what other people might think of you too. Research has shown that the area of our brains associated with reward is more active when other people agree with and reinforce our values and beliefs, so it is only natural to care.  

The problem with this need to activate that reward center is it causes us to work overtime trying to evade adverse judgment from others and paralyzing our ability to take action, try new things or open up. We are so afraid of what others might think about what we do, that we don’t do anything at all. Alternatively, worse, we live our lives for other people.

We Live Our Lives for Other People

If ever we live life for other people, we do it on social media.  

How many times have you viewed your friend’s picture-perfect Instagram montage and thought, “I wish my life were that flawless.”

News Flash: There’s always a filter.

I’m not just talking about those crazy Snapchat bunny ears or the X-Pro II color tweak on Instagram – I’m talking about the story filter. The part we let the world see. The edited version of life that litters social media in an attempt to gain “likes” from our peers and approval for our life choices.  It’s good ol’ fashioned validation conveniently curated in a news feed.

We are all guilty of it. If you head on over to my Facebook profile right now, you’ll likely find photos of my adorable children enjoying some of life’s finer pleasures: swimming, eating ice-cream, frolicking in a field somewhere (ok, maybe there aren’t any fields – but you get the idea). What you won’t find is photo evidence of me completely losing my shit tonight when my little angels refused to eat dinner – because, well, what would people think?

Hiding these real life “failures” is holding us back. There are other moms out there who went bat-shit crazy tonight too. If only we were more open to sharing, and discussing whom we are no matter what, we’d likely find – we’re not alone. We could learn from each other, we could collaborate, and we could help each other pick up the pieces when we completely fall apart.

Hiding our true selves from the world is not reserved for mommies and daddies or social media. We see it everywhere, especially in the workplace.

Team members don’t speak up in a meeting, they hold back ideas, or they are afraid to question a policy that might need adjusting. They don’t ask for that raise, they don’t negotiate that bonus, and they most certainly don’t make any moves – good or bad – out of fear of being ridiculed and rejected.  

Who loses?  Everyone.

The Need to Please Destroys Professional Growth

Whether you are running a business, working in a corporate role or just starting out in your career – you will not survive the journey if you are trying to please everyone.

I repeat – You. Will. Not. Survive.

The fact is we are more likely to displease others as we pursue our dreams, whether it be because they don’t understand what we are trying to accomplish; they don’t believe we are serious, or simply wish they had thought of it.  

Whatever the case may be, there are always going to be neigh-sayers.  

It isn’t easy, but we need to find ways to see our success and to appreciate that we are good enough without seeking validation from others. Now, for me breaking free from this mental cage is a work in progress. Below are a few daily actions I’ve recently started taking in an attempt to keep my approval seeking tendencies in check.   

5 Steps to Taking Back the Power of Approval

  1. Take a break from social media. A social media break shouldn’t be as painful as it is (or at least it is for me) – but sometimes, we need a little breather from the stimulation. To stop comparing ourselves to other people, we need to limit the amount we are immersing ourselves in the lives of other people. I am certainly not suggesting we all delete our accounts, but set aside a few hours a day to focus on different ways to relax and unwind.  

  2. Focus on Personal Development. I can tell you without a single degree of uncertainty, every time I pick up a new skill – I feel like a boss. Seeking out and developing new skill sets allows us to recognize our potential without the help of someone else. Focusing on a growth mindset that prioritizes learning and development encourages the process of weaning from the constant need for validation.  

  3. Trust your gut. You know that little voice in your head that tells you when something is off – listen to it. We don’t need Joe Schmo to squash our idea, that little voice will do the trick, as long as we trust it and listen. That voice is our power to guide our future. Trust your instincts, stop over thinking, and permit yourself to say: “F-it! Imma do what makes me happy.”  

  4. If you must know – Ask. Ok, so sometimes, you really want a particular person’s perspective. That’s ok. Very often considering different viewpoints will help us make a more informed decision. Here’s the thing: Don’t fall into the trap of analyzing what someone else may or may not think about you or your idea. If you really must know what a particular person thinks or feels about you – Just ask. How freeing is that?!

  5. Love Thyself.  I make it a point to be kind to everyone, but sometimes I forget to be kind to myself. A key ingredient in the recipe for strong self-worth is learning to be accepting of ourselves, to forgive our shortcomings and to love ourselves for who we are and all we expect to be.  

Conclusion

We will all make a wrong decision from time to time. Relying on what someone else may think of our choice over how we feel and our values will increase the likelihood that we make that wrong decision.
  
When we fear what other people think of us we put up walls that confine our development and stifle our creativity. Over time, we get used to the barrier and stop trying to break free. The thing of it is, life outside of those walls – it’s a vast open canvas just waiting for us to paint our future.

Let’s free ourselves from the confines of other people’s approval, and live our most authentic life – both personally and professionally.

But, maybe, keep our pants on. Maybe.