It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to. –W.C. Fields
Article written by BridgeMaker contributor Alex Fayle, Someday Syndrome.
I do. So do you.
You might try to deny it, but human beings are social creatures. We crave validation and approval from those around us, even when we try to be independent. It’s hardwired into us.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to let it rule us.
Just like everything in our lives, external validation has its good and bad sides. We all know about the bad side of being an approval junkie: submitting to peer pressure, suppressing dreams, conforming to the crowd, living up to (or down to) unreal expectations… The list goes on, but the result is the same. We live out our lives afraid to stand out and afraid to follow our dreams.
What’s Good about Opinions of Others
The opinions of others keep us realistic. They make sure we don’t walk off the edge of a cliff while we’re staring up at the sky. Other people challenge us to define our dreams and goals so that we hold a clear vision in our heads as we reach towards the future. And when we do get those gold stars from others, our enthusiasm and energy for our projects soar and we rocket to our destinations much more quickly.
We have a challenge, however. How do we separate peer pressure and judgment from support and inspiration?
It all depends on the type of people we surround ourselves with and on the expectations we hold regarding our circle of friends, family and coworkers.
The first one is easy – we want to surround ourselves with positive people who although they might not understand what we are reaching for, they support us and our dreams. However, we don’t want blind support. We want people who will ask the right questions, push us when we’re throwing ourselves a pity party and who ask the same of us for their dreams and pursuits.
Managing Our Expectations of Other People
The other part, the one where we learn to moderate our own expectations of others – that’s the hard bit. There’s a sweet spot balanced between needing constant stroking and approval and being so independent that we ignore everyone’s opinions all the time.
We find that sweet spot when we have confidence and faith in ourselves, when we believe in ourselves and our goals, and when we let go of our ego and open up to new ideas and suggestions to help us on our journey. We can’t assume we’ll always be wrong or always right. It’s a matter of finding the point – and it’s different for each person – where inspiration strikes and everything everyone says to us, whether it comes from love or negativity energizes us more and fuels our drive to succeed.
And that starts with knowing ourselves, knowing in what sort of situations we feel confident, in which ones we need constant reassurance and in which ones we’re arrogant bastards who don’t know how to take good advice.
When we know that, we can look at the differences among the three types of situations and determine how we can take pieces of the confident situation into the other two extreme places.
The Life of an Artist Learning to Have Faith
Because everything is easier to understand with an example, let’s take something from my own life. I’m a fiction writer and have been since I was young. As a teen, I wrote poetry and attempted a novel. While I had the occasionally good line of poetry and the stories behind the writing had good elements, I was a bad writer.
Well, actually let’s say unskilled writer – I’d had no real writing lessons and I’d never given my writing to someone else for an honest critique.
Between my teenage years in the late 1980s and my decision in 2006 to move to southern Europe to write, I took two major breaks from writing and both were due to too much negative pressure from others and from my own ego’s inability to listen and learn from what others were trying to tell me.
In my third year of university, I took a creative writing course and on the first day the professor told us that he didn’t like fantasy, so anyone writing fantasy was going to have a hard time in this class. Blow number one to my confidence.
This set up a defense mechanism in me that said “nothing this man will tell me will hold any value” creating blow number two to my confidence. If I didn’t believe in my writing and couldn’t believe that anyone in the class had anything of value to add in terms of critiques, then there was no way I was going to get anything out of the class.
So I didn’t plus I was so discouraged, I took more or less two years off from writing.
After university I joined a writing group, but like the writing class, it was the wrong fit. I learned how to critique from this group, but since the majority of them wrote literary fiction, plot-heavy fantasy had little interest for them. And because I have a people pleasing nature, I started writing more and more for the group and while a literary fantasy piece got published in an anthology, I wasn’t writing for me – I was writing for them – and that led to another writing break, this time of nearly five years.
In 2003, I left the 9-to-5 world and started to work for myself. Three years later, on the edge of success, I discovered that I wasn’t doing what really made me passionate. Fortunately, however, the three years of self-employment gave me a big confidence boost which allowed me once and for all to state exactly what I was passionate about: creative writing.
Therefore in the summer of 2006, I packed everything up and moved to southwest France where I wrote my first novel while on a sabbatical of sorts. Now while that novel is doing the rounds of agents, I’m working on my second novel and figuring out how to support that dream as I put down roots in northern Spain.
Three Ways to Keep the Faith Strong
So what changed? Why could I suddenly follow through on my dreams after so many years of denying my ability to write?
- I had faith in myself. With three years of running my own business under my belt, I realized that I could do anything I wanted and the fear of failure faded.
- I found the right support group. I joined the Forward Motion Writers online forum where I have taken workshops, gotten to know other writers and have found kindred spirits in the pursuit of a dream.
- I turned off the negative voices. That means within and without. When I start getting overly self-critical, I just sit down and start writing, showing my negative self that it has no idea what it’s talking about. As for the external negativity, I don’t even hear that anymore.
Basically I’ve learned when to listen to myself, where to find positive support circles and when to shut down negative voices.
And so in the end, who cares what others think?
I do and you do, but only selectively so and within the right community of support.
Alex Fayle, of Someday Syndrome, is a former procrastinator who uses his visionary ability to uncover hidden patterns and help you break the procrastination obstacle so that you can finally find freedom and start living the life you desire.
Learn more about how you can start loving life again at SomedaySyndrome.com