Until a couple of years ago I worked in government and government agencies. Like many large organisations these were hierarchical structures, with well-established decision-making processes. You would write a brief making a recommendation to implement or develop a new policy, and it would go “up the line” to be endorsed by senior managers. Each little piece of paper would have a string of signatures at the bottom of all those people who had approved its content, until it got to the Minister for final sign off.
Eventually I had become one of these senior managers and would add my bit to the process. I had the authority to give or withhold approval. I could suggest or request changes to improve the brief, and I could also ignore something that I either judged not to be a priority. I would then need to seek the approval of my manager, her manager and sometimes someone above her too. We were in an approval seeking and giving machine.
Of course underneath this process there was the human side of life. If I wanted our little pieces of paper to get endorsed, it helped to have the support of others. This included my team who prepared the briefs and those in authority who could sponsor and promote them.
I believed in these projects, so I would work to gain the support of others for them, trying to build trust in me and agreement to the ideas. However, this often meant tying myself in knots to get the approval I required: working late, making last minute changes, agreeing to something else to get attention for what I needed. All of this to build a reputation as a hard worker, a team player, a dedicated partner in the policy process. I would be calm when I wanted to be excited, cynical when I wanted to be passionate, angry when I all I wanted was peace.
I would do whatever it took: despite cost to my health, relationships and sense of self.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you spend your life checking to see if your ideas, beliefs, ways of being are being approved by someone or anyone? Have you found yourself agreeing to things you don’t believe, putting up with someone’s bad behaviour, denying yourself what you need all for the sake of fitting in or getting ahead? Have you put getting approval ahead of all your other needs?
If you are in this situation, ask yourself, what am I really looking for? Do you need others agreement and endorsement of your ideas to bring them to life? Or are you seeking some approval of your own self by others to know that you are OK? Are you confusing approval for appreciation of what you do and who you are?
Seeking approval is no way to live your life – at work or at home. Approval cannot be trusted. It can be withdrawn or withheld at any time and comes at too high a cost.
However we all need appreciation, now and then, be it from family, colleagues and friends. We also need to develop the ability to appreciate ourselves.
One way we do this is to practice being appreciative of those around you. Be the source of appreciation in your own life: thank others for what they do, acknowledge their contribution, look out for opportunities to bring their own attention to who they are.
Be generous in your appreciation. Show appreciation not just to your immediate family and friends, but to strangers too. Give thanks to the world around you in general, for all it does to support you. Do it in a way that feels authentic to you, but be willing to go a little outside your comfort zone too.
If you are relying on others for approval we can be trapped into doing and acting in ways that are not inline with our authentic self. By practicing appreciation for others we bring ourselves back into alignment, breaking the cycle.