How embarrassing, to be human.
-Kurt Vonnegut

lego art by Nathan Sawaya

Seeking validation from others often gets a bad rap.

A couple of nights ago, I chatted via Skype with a dear friend who I hadn’t spoken with in over two years. As catching up goes, we ended up laughing and talking for two hours about anything and everything. At some point, the idea of seeking validation from others for crazy-sounding, “personality crisis”-esque ideas came up and got me thinking.

We’ve all heard the advice, the words we wish we could internalize but rarely do: seeking affirmation from others kills freedom. Worrying what others will think of your ideas, your work, and your decisions is deleterious to making any progress. Soliciting approval from others is the rush-hour traffic bottleneck slowing your roll, the invisible yardstick that will always seem taller than you no matter how skyward you grow. Instead, many say, trust in the big cosmic thumbs-up you feel when you are doing what makes you happy, and throw others’ opinions to the skies.

But here’s the thing. Maybe a little validation from others is exactly what you need. As long as it’s not your primary motivation for doing what you do and being what you choose to be, because I think that’s when it gets tricky and dangerous… But if your compass falls out of calibration, finding receptivity to your madness from others every now and then can push your needle back to due North.

Many caution against reliance upon the vehicle – validation – but the destination it drives you to can be exactly where you want and need to go. And we’re all a little guilty of hitching a ride on the validation bus.

It’s why we get excited to see that red notification bubble at the top of our screens or little orange heart and number at the bottom of it, is it not? When a shot in a dark networking with someone on LinkedIn results in a connection, a validation from another human being, saying, yes, you are in my network. I include you in my universe, that feels undeniably good. When we talk things out with a sister, a friend, a boyfriend, a parent, a stranger that we fear no judgment from and can therefore open ourselves completely to…. what we seek from them is an affirmation that we are tenable, credible, and “okay.” That we are not, in fact, insane or alone — or both. And even if the validation sought is that it’s okay not to care what others think of you at ALL — we still portray ourselves a certain way to achieve that, whether we intend to or not. But I don’t think it’s something to beat ourselves up about.

Validation can be… the bumpers at the bowling alley. Sure, we might look like novices and be subjected to mild embarrassment, but if it keeps us from the gutter and steers us to roll on toward a strike, who’s to complain?

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“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”
-Walt Whitman

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CHANGE. Just because you don’t see or feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I mean, the first time I realized that I’ve changed since my cake-peering days (above) was… probably last Thursday.

But then when you stop and take stock of all the millions of ways, it blindsides you at the busy four-way intersection of your 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.

Over and over these past few weeks, I’ve caught myself shouldering a wooly mammoth of a mindset: that some infinite, nonexistent, melty thing is MISSING and I’m stuck/stagnant because I can’t find it.

But here’s really what it is like.

Your Google Maps tells you to turn down Avenue C, and you turn down Avenue X instead. Google Maps is not happy. Google Maps shouts “RECALCULATING….” And the anxiety of a botched turn, a miscalculated step, of having to navigate an awkward, uncharted, potentially thorny and dangerously unpredictable substitute makes you freeze from the inside out, marrow to hair follicles. A stalactite of nerves, you don’t even notice the alternate equally-or-more-awesome path in front of you.

That is what I was doing. I was stuck on RECALCULATING and thus failing to see the new, shiny, recalculated, fabulously unknown path. I was driving so hard to go from Point A to Point Z that I didn’t realize the serendipity and potential magic in the detour of exploring Point C-Y just because I couldn’t U-turn back onto B. (HOW’S THAT FOR SOME ALPHABET SOUP?)

Ignoring growth furthers recession into ourselves; acknowledging growth helps the onward blooming. Cubs turn into kings and queens of the jungle. People see themselves as people, not good people or bad people. Hearts heal. Someone lets oxygen into the vacuum. So much rejigging worth digging.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED?

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Somewhere in this process you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that

you are completely crazy.

Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.

Some Friday morning introspection from Buddhist monk Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.

Street art in Athens, Greece

Street art in Athens, Greece

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