August 9, 2020

Something to think about: You don’t need approval

“Do you enjoy being great, or are you afraid of not being great? Hopefully, it is the former — better yet, hopefully you love what you do, and as a result, you are great at it.” (Personal Quote). 

This is one of my own bits of advice. I’m not trying to say I’m great or good by any means, but I do try to take the things I have fun doing, and have them be of quality. 

I believe that wanting to be good at something is a healthy habit to practice, yet there is certainly a problem today regarding the “tyranny of exceptionalism” (Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck). While I think we should all strive to get better at what we do, we cannot surrender control of our self-image and hand it over to “approval”—whether it be that of ourselves or others. 

This idea leads to another bit of personal advice I have: “Improvement is derived from self respect. It is not something you do to impress or appease others.” 

If your reason for putting forth effort and enduring hardships through a task is to seek the approval of others, over the years you will find that your motivation is actually the fear of losing your identity. In other words, you are not being driven towards a goal, you are being driven away from the thought of what others will assume about you, through your quality of work. (A.K.A.: the thing you’ve been using to identity yourself in the eyes of others). 

You might think, “I’ve always been the top of my class in English … if this new professor doesn’t like my next paper as much as that other guy’s, then I’m no longer ‘the smart English guy.’” 

If I’m not “the smart english guy,” who am I?

Even if you use this fear of losing what you’ve harvested your self-esteem and identity from as a way to work hard and get a good grade on this paper, you’ve only delayed the inevitable: that someday, you won’t be the best. And through this delay, you are only becoming more attached to the security of how you are seen through the eyes of your professors. 

Your identity almost slipped away, but you managed to grab ahold of it. When it is threatened again, you are likely to become even more anxious—perhaps even hostile or entitled. 

An eventual failure of the most trivial nature – a single bad grade – could eventually trigger a complete identity crisis. “Be good at something you love to do; do not love to do something solely because you’re good at it” is something else that I tell myself. 

And hey, if you find yourself struggling to “be good” at something you love to do, don’t worry about it. If you truly love to do it, you’ll keep doing it through failure. 

And if you repeat whatever it is you’re doing enough, you’ll eventually get better at it. Your improvement shouldn’t happen on a schedule that has been dictated by others. After all, Albert Einstein in his youth was labeled as worrisomely behind with regards to his smarts; yet he described that the only thing that kept him learning was a natural, self-produced curiosity. 

If he cared about how other people perceived his rate of improvement, and if that perception is what drove him, his curiosity would have disappeared. Poof, no Einstein.

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