There was a time when nothing could make me happier than when my boss (when I used to have one) would say to me, “Good Job, Bisila!” When someone complimented my outfit, that really made my day, too!
When I was working at the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce, each year we held an award gala dinner. My favorite part of these awards were the messages I would receive the next day congratulating me for the event organization, the flowers, the menu selection, the fabulous guests who attended, etc.
These are a few examples of me seeking external validation.
This is not inherently bad, though; in fact, we all begin life in a state of complete reliance on external validation and it’s totally normal to look for it!
There was a time when I would be devastated if a project I presented to the Board was rejected. When I attended a cocktail party and no one commented on my looks, I felt that I made the wrong choice in my outfit and I would be depressed about that. When someone suggested changing the way I did something, I would take it personally, and for years I would avoid asking for opinions and feedback, fearing that people would criticize me or my project. All of these are just a few examples of me feeling that I had to prove something at all times!
As kids, we rely on external validation to learn appropriate behaviors. As adults, we need to be able to take instruction and constructive criticism from others in order to collaborate with peers. A problem occurs when outside approval becomes your be-all and end-all.
If your boss asked you to make some changes in a report you’d submitted, or if a professor suggested a different angle for your thesis, or if a friend suggested another outfit than the one you had in mind to wear to a party, why ignore or avoid the feedback? It’s all about balance: knowing when to take healthy, constructive feedback from others while not relying completely on outside approval for your sense of self-worth.
It’s dangerous if we allow that validation to drive our actions, because it drives us to act according to how we imagine others perceive or react to us. We must be able to accept advice or constructive feedback from others if we want to improve ourselves.
The good news is that you can break out of this cycle of needing to prove yourself and always looking for external validation. Here are some useful tips that I applied in my “I have nothing to Prove” journey.
1. As long as you’re giving your personal best, you are doing fine.
We all want to succeed and do better. If you can look at a completed task or objective and honestly say you gave it everything you had, you are living up to your own highest ideals. Be proud of that!
2.You know what’s best for you.
Two years after I came to New York, my college friends from the law school that I attended in Spain came to visit me. “You should do the bar exam and try to practice law in New York. You will make more money, and you will be able to buy a nice apartment, because you will do better. How can you live like this? (They were referring to my tiny, rented apartment.)
The people who care about us often batter us with well-meaning but unsolicited or incorrectly gauged advice. What these people really mean is, “I want to be happier for you, so you should take my advice, and you will be happier for you as well.” This kind of sentiment creates an awkward position. We don’t want to be unkind, and we know inside of us our “whys”. Being able to say, “I’m fine where I’m at” is a gentle way of saying you have nothing to prove to anyone, while still acknowledging the other party’s intentions and hopes for you.
3. You cannot expect to please everyone.
All of us have a cultural fear of letting anyone down. As a result, we take on too many tasks and make too many commitments. The end result is that we feel depleted and we feel like we are not up to the standards and expectations of others. It is acceptable to say no, especially when you’re making time for yourself and for the people who really matter the most to you.
4. You know better than anyone else what you are capable of.
You know more about you than anyone else possibly can. Part of having nothing to prove is the willingness to prove it, even when the only person you’re proving it to is yourself. People tend to judge others by statistics, not by individual ability. This can be frustrating when you’re trying to do more than “the norm” and you are told it’s impossible. You are the only one who can judge your capabilities and potential effectively.
5. Your value is not judged by external validation.
We’d all love to set a world record, receive awards, be recognized by media, be a best seller, etc. These types of validation are external and often flawed. Reality TV and social media have only bolstered these ideals, by celebrating public opinion more than who has the most technical skill or proficiency. Instead of judging your life by the mass media rubric, decide what really matters to you and go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out, you will be a success by the only standard that matters—your own.
6. You have the right to define happiness on your own terms.
You should be able to look back at the end of each day, week, month, or year and say, “I did my absolute best with everything I attempted, and I can be content with that.” Of course, you should always seek to improve, but be proud (yet humble) of your achievements and successes. Satisfaction is really just happiness when a task you take pride in is done and done well. Happiness means something different to everyone. I would rather rely on the feeling of joy than on happiness itself. I believe more in an inner state of being than to be chasing something that is supposed to bring me happiness.
The first thing we should do is to fulfill ourselves and be in a joyful state. We should be happy with ourselves without caring about what others say or think. In this way, we will reflect that contentment and satisfaction with ourselves into the world, and we will end up pleasing others, too, with our presence.
If you know who you are and know what you want, if you are self-confident and you trust yourself and your actions, there is nothing to prove. After all, whoever loves you will accept you just as you are with all of your virtues and faults, and through all of your triumphs and losses.