“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.”
Epictetus – Greek philosopher
As we go about our merry lives, chasing rainbows, fueling desires, goading ourselves to fulfill dreams, desperate to mean something in a fickle world where 1 second of fame is a lifetime, there’s a constant barrage of messages that are streamed into our consciousness. Some we internalise, some we discount, some we disbelieve, and some we fiercely defend. One of these is the oft repeated message: “Don’t worry about what others will say, do, think! Don’t worry about external validation. Worry about one thing and one thing only – what you feel and think about who you are and what you do.”
Yeah, sure. Got that. But wait a minute. Are you trying to say that:
a) if you’re an artist you’re painting only to please yourself because that is your Lust for Life?
b) if you’re a singer, you’re perfectly fine to continue to trill without ever having the pleasure of an external source telling you how evocative it is? Would Adele be okay to continue to Roll in the Deep in her bathroom?
c) if you’re an actor, you don’t need a director or the audience to say “Cut” or “darned fine job” and don’t want to go up to a podium to receive the coveted statuette? Or any other accolade that marks the merit of an artiste? (The merits and demerits of “awards” merits another post :p).
d) if you’re a ‘blue collar’ worker, a pat on your shoulder or that lil incentive that could send your child to college wouldn’t matter?
e) if you’re all dressed up in your finest and the image that winks back at you from the mirror is saying, “fantastic” is actually enough? That when that gorgeous woman at the party looks at you nervously and clutches at her arm candy even more tightly, that you don’t experience a frisson of excitement? It doesn’t matter?
f) if your child came up and asked ‘dadda dadda, see is this plane okay?’ you would instead turn around and ask, “what do you think?” and continue watching the news?
g) if your mother came and told you, “I’m so proud of you” and kissed you on the forehead and hugged you, you would smile, turn away and continue to dig into Pringles as you finished reading the last page on the Twilight series on your reader?
h) if you were a writer that it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t have any readers and would continue to write at least 1,000 words a day?
i) if you were a trapeze artist, a clown, a scuba diver, a treasure-hunter, a Bears Grylls, a Carl Sagan, an Oprah, the girl next door, the boy next door, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the designer, the ramp model, the hairstylist, the chef, the graffiti artist, a rapper, a Big Bosser or whoever dammit, are you saying that it wouldn’t matter if no one ever encouraged you, said you were great at what you did, no one ever applauded your efforts, or saw you and admired you and respected you and idolised you as a role model?
Really? Awww come on!!!
We are so happy dissing “external validation” and quote our modern-day sages on why it’s important to do what “you believe in” and not worry about “what others say” that we forget something very important. Human beings are intrinsically, I think, social beings. We’re not meant to be living in little islands of our own. We like to admire, gossip, encourage, laud, applaud others and seek that attention because it motivates us to do more. We are naturally competitive. I think if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be living in an age where wearable watches are the new normal, yes, we wouldn’t have been curious enough, tough enough, enterprising enough to seek more, discover more, do more.
“External validation” becomes quick-sand when you let it seep into your bones and every cell of your being as the “only thing that matters”. If we hinge our identity on “the others” and what they say, do, believe, now that my dear friend is cause for grievous injury to one thing and one thing only – the idea of you. By all means do what your heart tells you to, pursue lofty goals and live by the highest ideals, but don’t discount the acknowledgement that follows. Just don’t forget to acknowledge yourself first, respect yourself first, give permission to yourself first, like yourself first, love yourself first, believe in yourself first. Be more.