As an inquisitive child, I was a gem when I was young. I was the teacher’s pet who always turned in her work quickly and perfectly. Making As was easy and I swam in the accolades. They nourished my soul and fed me like a kid in a candy store. Sweet approval. But, then they tapered off and my cravings spiraled out of control. I was hooked on approval.
Too much candy is bad for you. It can be quite addicting. You find yourself craving that sweetness all the time. Coming down off of my pedestal was like coming down off a sugar high. It made me crave more. I had to have it to survive. Or so I thought.
Asking questions was applauded in lower elementary school, but once I hit middle school, I noticed a shift. My “hurrahs” had turned to avoidance by other students and irritation by the teachers. Instead of approval, my angst, frustration, and perfectionism were fueled. If only I was good enough, I could win them back. That goal became more and more unobtainable as I watched my pedestal slip farther away. It didn’t happen, so I chose to shift gears.
Going from accolades to near obscurity made me rebellious.
No, I didn’t go to extremes torching any buildings or even using drugs. Instead, I slowly went from the child who knew all of the answers morphing into the teen who just didn’t care. I never studied and still passed my classes. School was a joke. Though I did continue to research on the side, I didn’t share my knowledge. It was mine. I protected myself. It was done with looking for approval. I was out to change the world becoming the kind of teacher who wouldn’t fail my students-the way I felt mine had deserted me.
Fast forward several years and I began teaching. I threw myself into my work vowing to be the kind of teacher I missed out on. In some ways I failed, but in many others, I succeeded. I understood those kids who sought approval, but I was determined to support their self-sufficiency, a skill I learned in order to survive.
Years later I stumbled onto a book titled, Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days. I wondered if the author suffered through the same need, no…addiction to approval that I had as a child. Though I knew it was written tongue-in-cheek, secretly, I wondered if it was possible and I had messed it up along the way. My obsession with perfectionism was still buried deep inside me.
Recently, things began to change again. I went from an in-your-face kind of person to understanding that acceptance by others will never be my goal in life again. I accept the fact that I’ll probably always be somewhat annoying, but my attempts at perfection were soul sucking and got me nowhere. I now understand that being someone I was not didn’t help me win approval, and even more importantly, it built a wall of resentment between myself and anyone who wanted to know the real me. I had to start all over rebuilding myself. Coming undone was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Approval is a double-edged sword bestowed upon a king. Gain too much approval and others will line up to dethrone you. You’re better off not trying to rule, but to lead or even just live your life-the one you earned, not the one you think you deserve.
As I enter middle age, I’m finally figuring out the need for balance in my life. I don’t need to think in terms of “for” or “against” anymore. Life can just be. If someone doesn’t approve of me, I’m learning to look more objectively at my actions, let things go, and if need be, try another route around instead of setting up a demolition site.
It’s much better to be yourself and love yourself-imperfections and all, seeking approval from the only one qualified to give it-you.