We all like to be recognized for what we do. Some people need it from everyone around them and others are more selective. The search for approval is innate: it starts in our childhood, as we follow our parents around so they can see how well we do things – a process that builds our self-esteem and confidence.
During adolescence, what our friends think about us starts to matter (in most cases, excessively) and, as adults we continue to look to others for their critiques – be it on cooking, writing a report or dancing in a nightclub. But this search can be a problem when we need validation for everything we do. For example, when someone gives a presentation in front of a large crowd and everyone likes it except for one person… that one negative review can sour the entire experience. It is clear that this attitude comes from the fear of failure. And it is a weak spot, because, as the doctor and lead investigator in a study on stress, Hans Selye says, “the more we yearn for approval, the more we are chained to it.”
You gain freedom when you enjoy work and feel like you have purpose
When we desperately seek approval (of course, people rarely openly admit to this), we are giving the other person the power to judge us. In the previous example, the person giving the presentation is extremely vulnerable to any criticism. Any comment that could potentially question their work is a time bomb waiting to explode – whether it comes from their boss or from an intern. The reason is simple: they have given them that power. In the end, their sense of success is driven by their insecurities, and this is what makes them extremely vulnerable. So, what can we do to manage our constant search for approval?
First, approval should act as an engine, not a pair of pliers. The line between the two is subtle, but simple. If you can’t stop thinking about an isolated negative comment, the desire for approval is acting more like a set of pliers, pulling apart your talent or potential. However, if a comment acts as an engine, you learn from it, move on, and it becomes a driving force to help you improve.
Secondly, accept it: not everyone’s opinions are worth worrying about. If we aim to please everyone, we will end up turning into someone else. A healthy dose of criticism can be positive. If you want change, don’t bank on everyone liking it. In fact, if it doesn’t make some people uncomfortable, it’s possible that the project won’t be successful.
If we aim to please everyone, we will turn into someone else
And finally, believe in what you do and have fun with it. If we work solely for the approval of others, we cannot be creative or original. You gain freedom when you enjoy work and feel like you have purpose. That is why you must do things for you first, have others in mind, but don’t give them all your power. This is the only way you’ll be able to shine with your own light.
As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” This can only happen when we look for approval in the right measure.
English version by Laura Rodríguez.