Appreciation is silent.
But validation, it's loud, and we're always seeking it from others. We want to be told that what we're doing is right. We want to be given the confirmation that we're saying the right things.
But there's a difference between internal validation and external validation: one is centered in appreciation of yourself while the other one is constantly seeking and never satisfied.
I was addicted to the feeling of external validation when I was a kid. My best dealer: the classroom. It was the place where I received the most praise from authority figures. It made me feel good.
Even though the things in class were not interesting, I was praised for doing well in them, so I kept trying hard to perform well. Learning was never about the subjects to me. It was all about getting those golden star stickers on the top of my tests. That's what learning became to me: regurgitate these facts so that your parents are happy and your teachers use you as an example to the rest of your class.
In truth though, my parents were Asian so they didn't give me much vocal praise or validation. They usually just checked my report card at the end of the quarter and said "good job" no matter the grade and went back to whatever they were doing. So I came to rely heavily on the praise my teachers and coaches gave me. I would even do things not because I wanted to, but because I knew it would elicit a reaction from my friends.
In short, I was a total people pleaser.
Everything I did was either for:
- "the colleges" when I joined clubs for the sake of adding onto my resume,
- my teachers when I participated in class when no one else was
- my parents and uncles and aunts when I studied hard for a test
- my friends when I agreed to do something I didn't like just so that they would like me
I mean I guess it wasn't so bad. Trying to impress other people led me to asking a girl out to prom via poetry in front of my whole English class, become the class treasurer for 4 years of high school, and rap in front of a live audience of 200+ for Senior Show.
The thing is, I never had to validate myself. I've always had other people to tell me that I was enough. Other people told me that I would be a success. I believed that I had to live up to their expectations or else I would be letting them down.
I wasn't trying to succeed for myself, I was trying to succeed for others.
When high school stopped, and the praise stopped coming in, I felt like I no longer had that external source of validation.
I had to learn a new way to confirm to myself that I was on the right path. When there is no one is telling you you're on the right path, who do you turn to?
It can only be you.
Self doubt crawled over me. Did I even have the power to do that? I can't possibly make the right choices. I need someone to guide me along the way. I need someone to let me know that I'm not screwing up.
Or so I thought.
It all clicked when I read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers". You could spend 10,000 hours doing something and no one would know how long you spent on mastering your craft. So how do you motivate yourself to get through those 10,000 hours?
You have to do it for yourself. You have to choose yourself to get to where you want to be.
I realized that I could either spend my life seeking appreciation and living a life of bitterness and mediocrity for the satisfaction of other people, or I could choose my own path and pursue it without apology. Even if people wouldn't praise me or accept what I was doing, I would do it because that's what I've decided is best for me.
You're not suppose to live life so someone can say "good job, Jimmy!" and give you a pat on the back. Life is about doing what you want because it makes you feel free. Choosing yourself and being mentally selfish, allows you the time to be giving in all other aspects of your life.
I've come to believe that doing what makes you come alive is the only true way to live.
I understand all of our situations are different, but if you're not living your life under your rules, then you're just doing a huge injustice to yourself if you're always seeking to take the backseat in favor of someone else's opinions.
You're allowed to be a little selfish when it comes to your happiness. Because when you're happy, you positively affect the rest of the world.