On significance and approval

Most of us in some way seek acknowledgement, a sense of significance or approval from the people around us. We search for feedback that acknowledges that yes, we are doing a good job, or we are behaving in a way that keeps us included in our communities. We seek validation to prove we are enough, we are worthy of love and belonging, and if we are worthy of love and belonging then we are safe.

This approach to life is fuelled by things like social media, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, capitalism.

When I was spending days being a bit of a zombie through my cancer treatment last year, I was quite unable to hustle for approval. I posted a few things on social media, and actually felt quite comforted by the responses I received. But on the whole, I could only muster walking and lying down and responding, rather than initiating, conversations with people in my life.

I had to take my hands off the wheel, which at first was scary, but after some time it felt more peaceful than I would have ever imagined. It felt like resting into existence, as Thich Nhat Hanh used to discuss. It felt like the surrender Tara Brach often talks about. 

At one point, I was talking to myself (I live on my own, the walls in my home know EVERYTHING that goes on in my mind) and after noticing this new found peace for a while, I realised that by taking my hands off the wheel, I had tuned into to my inner resourcefulness. It was like I started communicating with my inner CEO, or my Core as we talk about here at Bird, or my gut, or intuition or spirit. And in that conversation, with myself, I realised, rather radically, that I am the only person who needs to validate my choices. And if I am the only person who needs to validate my choices, then that makes me significant, to me. I realised that I am significant solely because I exist. I am significant because I see, hear, smell, taste things. I am significant because I feel things. I don’t need to hustle to belong, I don’t need to hustle to find my worth. I, like all of us, am worthy just because I am here.

Those thoughts felt new, and a bit strange, and I questioned whether I’d dipped into some extreme form of narcissism. But, in truth, what I came to is, that if I am significant to me, if I am in charge of my experience in the world, if I belong to Hannah as Maya Angelou would say, then I am more available for genuine connection with others. I am more available to connect with others without agenda, without a need for them to approve of me. I get to be me, they get to be them, and when we connect it is a really beautiful experience.

I must add a caveat here and say it is incredibly hard to take care of your own wellbeing if you are in a space of high stress, danger or trauma caused by external circumstances. I am not writing here today saying everyone should just self-care and get on with things. When we are in a traumatic situation it is almost impossible to do that, we are in survival mode and just trying to get through the situation, to add an extra pressure to ‘make yourself feel good’ in that environment isn’t helpful. 

But, if you are in a space of safety, I’d encourage you to step back and take a bit of time to reflect on how you might be more of your own champion, your own cheerleader, your own decision maker, your own approver, your own creator of love. How might you get more firmly into your own driving seat, and be the conductor of your own life experience? And how, if you are able to do that, might that lead to deeper, stronger, more powerful connections with the people and environments around you?

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