“Lean too much on other people’s approval and it becomes a bed of thorns.” -Tehyi Hsieh
“Oh no, I said something wrong.” If I had a top-10 list of defeatist thoughts that I’ve entertained most frequently over the course of my life, this would certainly make the cut.
I’ve thought this when I’ve met new people and wanted to make a good first impression.
I’ve thought this with men I’ve dated, when I felt insecure and neurotic about whether or not I seemed confident and charming enough.
I’ve thought this during job interviews; when networking with people in my field; and on various occasions when there’s been a spotlight on me, literally or metaphorically.
It’s a knee-jerk response when I fear I’ve somehow presented myself in a bad light—and that maybe as a result, I will lose approval.
In a perfect world, I want to always say the “right” thing at the right time. But when I dissect this instinct, I recognize that what I really want is to know people will never think bad things about me—that they’ll never question my intentions, or judge me by one comment or encounter.
I’ve realized, however, that this is a fool’s errand, because we simply do not have the power to shape how we’re perceived. More importantly, we’ll never know lasting happiness if it’s dependent on other people’s approval.
Even if we say all the “right” things, there will always be someone who doubts us, judges us, or interprets our words to mean something we did not intend.
I’ve often called myself a recovering people-pleaser, because I’ve made vast improvements in this regard, but I still feel that knee-jerk instinct at times—that fear that I won’t be liked or accepted. I’ve learned that this is okay.
Retaining our power isn’t about eliminating self-doubting, defeatist thoughts; it’s about learning to dispute them so that we can let them go and move on, feeling self-approved whether other people validate us or not.
We may never feel permanently confident. But we can learn what that place looks and feels like so we come back a little more quickly with every challenge we face.
Photo by KittyKaht