Can we all agree that 2016 was one hell of a year? I don’t know what it was like for you, but I made changes that caused a lot of emotional ups and downs. I even experienced a very low point where I wasn’t sure I was cut out to tackle… well… anything. Even though this has been the hardest year of my life (and I’m not just saying that to be dramatic), I can say that I’ve learned a lot about myself. I recognize many of my strengths and weaknesses on both the personal and professional levels.
I discovered that my biggest weakness, oddly enough, is spending too much time focusing on my weaknesses.
I have been running on emotional fumes for so long, that it became my default setting. Even once I made necessary changes, fear of failure found its way back into key areas. I didn’t even realize it was happening, but it was holding me back.
When left unchecked, insecurities bubble below the surface and spill over at the worst possible moments leaving us wondering what the heck just happened. Then we start frantically scrambling to clean up the mess.
For me, that fear is never worse than when I shift my focus from my goals to a desire for external validation.
I think a lot of us fall into the approval-seeking trap and think if we could just get that one thing we want, we could finally reach some imaginary plateau.
“If I get my book published, I can finally feel like a success.”
“If I get that job, I can stop worrying about finances.”
“If he’ll just call me back/she’ll just give me more attention, I’ll feel more secure.”
“If my kids would listen, I would be less stressed.”
“If my spouse complimented me more, I would feel more attractive.”
You get the idea.
When we start caring so much about what other people think (or worse, what secret agenda they might have), we lose sight of ourselves. The truth is, publishing your book won’t make you feel successful – especially if that is the only reason you write. It might give you a temporary sense of accomplishment, but that’s only until the high wears off and you realize you still have the rest of your life to live.
Constantly waiting for a love interest to tell you you’re attractive or worthy of attention will leave you never feeling good enough. You might hear those things, but if you don’t already know and believe them, those warm fuzzy feelings won’t stick around. You’ll continue to feel insecure and suffocate your partner in the process.
Seeking external validation has the potential to sabotage every area – career, relationships, personal goals, and more.
Have you ever wanted to join the gym or take a fitness class but didn’t because you thought you might embarrass yourself?
Guess what? You just let your desire for approval sabotage a personal goal.
I have found that this is especially true in my writing career. I know I have been guilty of letting my insecurities affect my writing. If I’m not careful, I start to put stock in that internal monolog that says, “You’re not good enough. That writer is better. Those people have more knowledge and experience. Plenty of other writers are more qualified than you.” It’s like I’m waiting for someone else to tell me it’s okay to be a writer.
That’s why I feel like “focus on your audience” is terrible advice for the hesitant writer just starting out. Yes, consider your audience. But if you are grappling with fear and make the audience your primary focus, you’ll never publish a single piece.
I’ve felt like the plain, forgettable girl most of my life and have, unfortunately, allowed that internalized belief to shape my confidence and decisions. I’ve decided that I don’t deserve the great job, the attentive boyfriend, the loyal friendships, or the exciting writing projects. For too long, I have allowed my anxieties and insecurities to define me while I wait for an outside source to tell me I’m good enough.
So, what’s the solution? How can we break free of the negative cycle of self-doubt and approval-seeking?
- Publish that blog you have been hemming and hawing about for the past six months.
- Join that gym you drive by every day.
- Write that novel you started and never finished.
- Pitch for that project.
- Apply for the job you think you can’t get.
You will never build confidence until you take some risks and prove to yourself what you are capable of accomplishing. You can spout positive affirmations all day long. But the words mean nothing if there is no action behind them.
You’re going to be scared. And it is going to take practice to stop fretting over what others might be thinking or saying about you. Remind yourself that their opinions don’t matter, and keep going.
Act on your goals until you have proven to yourself that you have what it takes to reach them.
If this year has taught me anything, it is that all of the knowledge and planning in the world means nothing if you don’t do anything with what you have learned. The positive changes that happened to me this year never would have happened if I had allowed fear of judgment to dictate my choices.
Make daily decisions that move you toward your goal. No matter how fumbling or awkward you feel, take that first step. And then take another one.
Stop waiting for life to happen to you. Stop reacting, and start acting.