March 17, 2015

Whose Approval Matters to You?


Promising myself that as I climb the life ladder, I will become more transparent and honest about everything.

I can only hide for so long, the shadowy feelings and ferocious fears that lurk about, sneering their snarky comebacks whenever I dare to step up the next rung.

I have written about the idea of Impostor Syndrome in which a person, regardless of appearance of worldly success, believes that he or she will never be enough and really are faking it and that someday, when least expected, will be found out as a fraud. I can laugh at it at times as I list accomplishments I have racked up over the years. I bet you can do it too. It is a fun exercise and reminds us that we really have made a difference in the world and have had a positive impact.

I can go along for days and sometimes weeks at a time, in coast mode, not looking over my shoulder, awaiting disapproval or skepticism about something I have said or done. Not sure of the origin, since I didn’t receive disapproval from parents or teachers. Quite the opposite, with glowing praise heaped on the precocious kid who became an adult who sought affirmation at every turn, somehow I internalized the idea that I should always have the correct answers to whatever question was posed to me, that I was to be the proverbial “smartest one in the room,” that I was to “do the family proud,” and be a shining star.

All of this could have been my imagination, since my parents never verbalized any of these things. What I know is I slurped it all up, like a chocolate milkshake and I didn’t want to miss a drop. I recall conversations with my dad who would tell me something he wanted me to understand and my smart ass teen response was an exasperated, eye rolling “I know,” to which he would say lovingly, but firmly, “No, you don’t know, but you can learn.” He was right.

A few years ago, I was asked to edit a newsletter for an organization with which I was involved. Having been a magazine publisher, the person who made the request and I both assumed it would be a piece of cake. When the time came to prepare it for publication, I had to learn how to use HTML code. To me it was computer gibberish and each time I would go through the process of setting it up, it wouldn’t translate to legible English.

After several attempts at it with the former editor, feeling frustrated and embarrassed, I stepped back and told him I would figure it out. I then called another friend who has an IT business and asked for his guidance. I told him about my emotional dilemma, believing that with a master’s degree, I should somehow know how to do this. He reminded me that this was not my area of expertise, but that it was his and that he would stay on the phone with me and go over it until we had resolved it. That we did. It took a very few minutes before I realized that I had missed the same step each time and that finally, it flowed. Once I knew how to do it, I couldn’t “un-know” it. At the time I was the only one judging myself. My two friends held no judgments against me.

These days, the desire to be approved of, or at least not disapproved of, play out in both the personal and professional realms. As a writer, I have a desire to be impeccable, inspiring and, yes, I admit it, have my words be “gotten” by the reader, as if I had penned it just for them. I write for many venues and each editor has his or her own standards and methods.

When I began writing for one in particular, the learning curve was a bit steeper and the expectations different from those to which I had been accustomed. I felt the flush of embarrassment creep up each time the editor had suggestions for changes and ways that we could work together more smoothly. Waiting for the other shoe to drop at times. What she really was wanting to do was bring out the best in me as a journalist. She encouraged me to dig deeper and find excellence. I think it’s working, since I have had nothing but positive feedback from her recently.

Another gremlin reared its spiky head when I felt miffed and dissed by a colleague who commended someone else for an achievement that I had reached as well. “What am I, chopped liver?” is what I wanted to say to her. Not sure what is behind her statement, or lack thereof.  I took pause and asked myself why her thumbs up even mattered. Why was I putting her approval of me and what I did ahead of my own?  Notice I said felt miffed and dissed. That may not have been her intention at all. The only way to know is to ask her directly. I may do that.

How often had I wanted to be viewed as one of the cool kids who had it all together and make everything look easy? Last week, a friend to whom I confessed feeling “less than” at times, seemed incredulous, since her perception was that I had it all together and that I was quite competent. Yeah, right. Many’s the time I have felt incapable and incompetent.

Another friend made a comment on Facebook and used a description of something she was doing that I felt compelled to reframe in a more positive light and her response was to thank me and then declare that she wanted to express her feelings just as she had without my interceding. Although I know we each have the right and responsibility to be true to ourselves, it sparked another conversation about how much to step back and allow others to effect their own destiny and how much to encourage change, if we, in our infinite wisdom think it would benefit them. We each have our world view that we swear by and sometimes swear at.

I sometimes dance the fine line between approval seeking and approval sucking. The second is more insidious and seems like neediness. Not the finest feeling. It really does suck the energy out of us when we allow another’s opinion of us to supersede our own.

Take a few minutes to make a list of whose approval is important to you. Then ask yourself about the origin of that desire. What does it mean to be affirmed? What does it mean to be denied what might seem like nourishment? How can you offer yourself what you are desiring from others?

I recall two lines from one of my favorite cult classic movies called, “To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,” that feel apropos here:

Vida Boheme: “Your approval is not needed.”
Noxeema Jackson: “Approval neither desired nor required.”



Are We Self-Aware or Self-Absorbed?


Author: Edie Weinstein

Editor: Travis May

Photos: Movie Still

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