I’ve talked recently about my shift in business approach, and how that’s taking me down a much more genuine path to what’s right, and what’s working, for me.
Part one was an honest look at data and priorities and building an appropriate strategy.
Part two was a self-imposed and externally enforced limit on distractions.
And part three is shaping up to be a really cool organic comfort. A natural evolution. An honest and open cultivation of trust and confidence.
Also, part three is still a little scary at times.
I’m less and less inclined to scroll social media these days, and surprisingly even less inclined than that to make a post. If you had told me a month ago that would be the case, I would have cackled in your face like this:
But with this shift in priorities that are so much more aligned with how I really want to show up, and what I really want to do, it has become shockingly easy to not even think about it. And it’s spread through my personal and professional life in really transformational ways.
I have spent a lot of my life seeking validation in various ways. In early years, it was through getting good grades. A little later on, it was through performance. A little later on than that, it was through sexual attention and relationships. Then, it became through recognition for my work (um, and also, self) via sign ups, likes, and double taps.
And no matter the form, it never seemed like enough. I was continually seeking validation of my worth, confirmation that I was a worthy human, and any attention I could get in any form to justify my existence personally and professionally. And with the advent of digital everything and all these other ways to seek and receive external validation, it got exceedingly complicated.
You can imagine that was a losing game.
And it was. It is. But in truth, it’s a game that a lot of us are duped into playing. All of that stuff – academic performance, talent and applause, sex, professional and financial success, followers – it’s all part of this big, nasty cycle that plays to our various life experiences, challenges, fears, and insecurities. A lot of these things are set up in such a way to give us structure. Comfort in external validation. Checking boxes. Assurance that we’re doing OK, we’re doing it right, we’re doing it how we’re supposed to be doing it, according to the rules.
And I guess because I’m not much for rules, I’ve struggled a lot of my life with these particular parameters, with this game. Like, if it’s here, I have to play, right? But what I’ve discovered in part three is that I actually don’t.
It is a process to unravel that game, those rules. Again, so much so that I literally had to employ yet another app to decrease my dependency on others. So much so that I had to take a hard freaking look at how even my own behavior was perpetuating the game and its rules for myself, for others. It’s astonishing sometimes how ingrained some of this stuff really is in our lives. And I’m not sure it can be totally undone, but I do believe we can make a dent if we’re conscious about it.
In my process of unraveling, I’ve come to realize that a large part of my identity rests on being seen as successful. That definition has evolved, and certainly differs from person to person. But especially as an entrepreneur, outwardly, I continued to put a lot of stock in performance and metrics – much the same way I put a lot of stock in grades. In my mind, every like, click, view, whatever, meant success. More = better. Please, everyone, validate that what I’m doing is serving a purpose.
And in attaching a lot of value to that, it became a bit of a requirement to mold myself in the ways that would elicit other people seeing me in the ways I craved being seen, that I thought would validate me in ways that I wanted. To shape myself, my words, my work into the prevailing model of success. Over time, I basically turned into a completely warped and insecure version of myself. Of who I started off as in the very beginning, and of everything I claimed I wanted to be.
I spent so much time agonizing over the rules – do it this way, say it this way, give it this way – and whether I was conforming to them in order to reach the best possible outcome, the most possible “success,” I fell victim to the game. And worse – I played victim for a long time too. (Oh god, that’s the worst feeling. I feel ashamed to admit it.)
It broke me. Hard.
To think that these very social media networks that purported to keep us connected, uplift us, and help us to do business in the digital age could have such a deep affect on my psyche, my very core and identity was jarring. It seems so light, so harmless, but in fact it’s profound. It’s intense.
And these days, this part of the game, specifically, tells us that it’s a non-negotiable. That the only way to conduct business, or to foster personal relationships, is to do it digitally. Depending on who you talk to, the importance will be stressed anywhere from it should be your entire strategy, to well, you have to have at least some presence. Please, everyone validate that I have something interesting to say/sell.
It’s just so hard that that’s the nature of what this is. The research shows us how powerful this drug really is. And I know not everyone struggles with these same issues. Some people don’t have any trouble existing in the world with no social media at all, or they can use it without attachment to the validation it offers. But for those of us who do, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in it and tell ourselves that we need it for any number of reasons, none of those coming close to the root.
I’m a relatively self-aware person. I know I have stuff. I know my fear of failure, or perceived lack of success, is something that sometimes kept me frozen. I know my need for validation kept me challenged, held me back, made too much of what I do ego-driven. I know some standout life experiences have kept me questioning my self-worth for way too long, even though they haven’t been relevant for years, decades. And I know that there is no one in this world but me who can change any of those fears or wounds into growth and self-confidence but me.
Basically, if this is a game, I have to learn to make my own moves and not leave it all to chance.
And that brings me to this part of the process that’s so much more peaceful.
Dismantling my experience of the game itself allowed me to see more of what my role in it was, and how, or if, I wanted to engage. That was part one. Is this strategy helping or hurting me, personally and professionally? What is the data telling me? Also, do I want to do this? Or do I feel like I have to play by that rule because it’s part of the game? What fits with my identity and values? How do I do more of that, and less of what doesn’t fit? How can I reclaim the real me?
Part two put boundaries around it and set expectations. If I’m not able to do this myself because I’m still too mired in the game or it’s going to be too hard of me to let go of, what can help me? Where do I shift focus? What’s a better and more genuine strategy for me? What kind of support do I need to cultivate to get there? If I’m not playing the game I used to play, what will I be doing instead?
And in that space of pulling apart the pieces of the game, I pulled apart my own pieces too. Every “if” or “what” or “how” question was followed up with a “why?” And in every why, I got closer to the very foundation. The roots that have been covered up and built on and spackled over a thousand times. I tore it all up and started again.
The foundation has always been doing it my own way. Independence. Self-confidence. But again, over all this time and noise of “digital sense of self” over any real sense of self, it just gets painted over too many times. Like, is that really me talking? Or is that the me that’s saying this thing because it will give me a little dopamine hit of please, everyone validate that I’m smart and talented.
Removing even the possibility for that dopamine hit gave me space. Part three is so much space. It’s almost that kind of space that’s so wide open it feels uncomfortable. (It is uncomfortable.) But it’s space to breathe and assess and make plans and rebuild, totally outside of existing parameters.
I’m imagining it like this:
I came from standing in the middle of a crowded, gray, noisy, hugely populated city. There were billboards everywhere, phones chirping every three seconds, cars whizzing by, people mostly with their heads down. Offices filled with those same people churning out the same products and services just washed in different fonts and colors.
And now, I’m standing in the middle of a golden field. I can still see the city off in the distance. But I took a dirt road to get out here, and all I can hear right now is the whisper of the wind and the rustling of the alfalfa. People come out here when they need the same peace as me, when they feel the same need for space. And together, we’ll build a community that looks and feels entirely different.
What that really translates to is that in just this short while, I’ve gone from thinking of my entire life in terms of what to share next, how this experience will translate into a social media post, a deep-seated need to share every part of my life so someone can tell me it’s good – to not doing that. If the mood strikes me and I have something to say, I say it. But I say it because it brings me joy, and I’ve already found my internal validation.
It doesn’t really matter how others see me, it matters that I can actually see myself, not the warped version of me.
My creativity and consistency and quality engagement (if that matters) has gone through the roof. Because I answered all those questions about how and what and why I wanted to do things. With such a clear picture, everything gets easier. Everything has more meaning, inherently, not through external validation. The work is valuable in itself, not because someone tells me it is.
I used to have this problem where I’d have a great idea for something, or I’d have an insightful experience I’d want to share with people, and instead of doing that, the very first thing I would do was open up my Instagram to see how someone else was doing it. And usually, it would be someone who I was exceedingly jealous of too. Like, OK, we’re all saying the same things, but how is this person saying it for maximum effect?
And I’ve learned throughout this whole process that I do not have to do that. Ever. It’s all part of the game to have this need to say things in ways that will be the most “successful.” But for those of us who are more purpose and vision driven, is that all there really is? If this is about sharing experiences, our own, incredibly unique and personal experiences and expertise, is that how this game has to work? Is that how we’re ultimately doing our best to achieve a purpose or vision that helps anyone but ourselves in any real way?
Once again, I vote no. That version of the game encourages more and more of a quest for permission, validation, and artificial confidence. Stepping away from it might have its drawbacks, but wow at the shift in internal validation. Trust and true belief in self-worth, outright. Confidence in competence that comes from me and no one else.
To be clear, it’s all still a bit tangled up. It is for a lot of us. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, or that all of a sudden, I’m totally disappearing from the digital world, or that I don’t fight cravings for validation nearly every single day. But for every bit of increased awareness I gain, for each time I refuse to stack myself up against the players in the game du jour – or at least ask myself questions about my behavior or my instinct in a situation, it gives me the space, trust, and confidence to self-validate. After a lifetime of seeking that elsewhere, it’s progress I’m calling a win – in nobody’s game tally but my own.
And to be doubly clear, I’m certainly not suggesting any of this applies in your life. I will say, though, that from the many conversations I’ve had lately, it’s certainly possible, at least to a degree. And if that’s true? I’m not here to preach anything along the lines of, “you don’t need external validation of your worth!” But, you know, maybe it’s worthwhile to start asking questions about how the game plays in your life. Maybe it’s time to seek your space, your peace. Maybe there’s an opportunity to find more of your trust and confidence in yourself, by your own rules. To make your own moves.