education

Did you ever find yourself seeking external validation? If so, what did you hope that person or group of people would tell you?

I recently asked a friend of mine on our podcast, “Did you ever find yourself seeking external validation? If so, what did you hope that person or group of people would tell you?”

As she began to share moments from her life of when she was seeking external validation, I started to think of instances when I found myself seeking approval or permission from others.

It was difficult to pinpoint the origin of when it all started.

One memory after another flashed in front of my eyes.

It was as if I was watching a movie.

The only parts missing were a 60-inch and a bowl of popcorn.

As I tried to go deeper within each memory, hoping that it would lead me to the origin of why I chose to seek validation from others, I noticed that the memories began to repeat themselves, over and over again, starting with 2005, the year that I was adopted from Chebarkul’, Russia by a family from Ann Arbor, MI.

I felt like a newborn after the adoption took place, even though I was 12 years old.

I spoke very few words of English … and only understood a handful of the culture that I was deeply immersed in …

I was desperately looking for a place of comfort or familiarity, a place where I belonged.

For me, seeking approval or permission was one way for me to develop that sense of belonging.

It was a practice I was far too familiar with from the three years of living in the Russian orphanage, a place where we had no choice, or so it appeared that way. I would seek approval or permission from the authorities before making a decision, no matter how big or small it might have been.

But, as the saying goes, “too much of anything can be bad for you.”

My case was not any different.

Although, seeking approval and permission from others might have helped me at the beginning, as the years went by, it took away my self-confidence and self-belief in my own decision-making abilities.

The lack of self-confidence and self-belief made me indecisive, in situations where I felt comfortable making my own decisions before.

Seeking approval or permission from others was becoming the norm, my norm. 

It seemed that no matter what the situation was, whether it was intimate relationship I was part of, business endeavor, a friendship … I was seeking the other person’s approval or permission for the decisions I was to make.

It took years; before I was able to reverse engineer what I had created. 

In fact, that is the most important message, for me at least, to acknowledge and take ownership that even in situations where I felt like I was being dependent on others, I was still the person that was making the final decision.

Even at the orphanage, where seeking approval and permission was in your best interest, unless you wanted to be punished, I could have disobeyed what I was told and chose differently.

We all have a choice, at all times, even in situations where it may not seem like it.

As I was once told, “The decision not to make a decision is still a decision.”

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Have you ever felt like you had no choice, but to compromise your values?

I have, many times.

In fact, there is one in particular; I remember it as if it had happened yesterday.

There were five of us when it happened.

“Ding,” the sound of the entry bell, as we entered the convenient store.

On most days, such sounds didn’t bother me, but this time it was different.

“You guys go up front and we’ll wait here,” one of the kids whispered.

As he and I made our way toward the front of the store, my hands began shaking.

I have never done this before.

I followed him, as he made his way to the front of the store.

“Do you have any more Twizzlers?” he asked the store employee.

“Let me check in the back,” she responded.

As she made her way to the back of the store, I noticed his left hand reach for the stack of candy bars in front of us.

“Here, take them,” he whispered.

My hands were shaking, as I grabbed the candy bars out of his hands and shoved them straight into my pocket.

Rinse and repeat, one week after another, we would steal from the same store.

Until, one day, one of us was caught by our parents.

The next thing we knew, my friend and I were being questioned by his parents whether or not we stole from the convenient store.

“No, we didn’t steal,” both of us, repeated over and over again.

It wasn’t until years later that I noticed the consequences of compromising my value of, “honesty”.

What started, as a harmless act, to us at least, turned into a habit of not telling the truth for years to follow.

I found myself lying, in situations where I didn't have to do so.

“What is the harm of not telling the truth, if YOU know that it is not the truth?” I thought at the time.

But, it wasn’t until years later that I found an answer to my own question.

The act of “lying” was becoming my “truth”.

It was easier to tell a “lie” because that is what I felt more comfortable with.

A friend of mine during our podcast interview once said, “Your environment always wins.”

Well, this time my environment was certainty winning, as not only was I not always telling the truth, but also my closest friends were not telling the truth.

My actions were influencing them, and their actions were influencing me.

But, “honesty” wasn’t the only value I compromised.

The more I began to look at the relationships at hand; the more I noticed all of the other compromises I was making.

One of those was, “authenticity.”

I was choosing to wear a mask to avoid judgment. I continued to wear that mask to be accepted within my tribe.

As part of this cycle, I was also compromising, “learning.”

“How can you develop a meaningful and deep relationship with another person, if you are not able to fully be there?”

I felt as if I was cheating some of the people by not fully showing up.

I thought, “How could I expect them to be fully honest and transparent, if I wasn’t doing the same?”

Years went by before I was able to change those early habits.

It was during those years; I learned that I always have a choice and there is no choice in life too small to have an impact.

Today, I choose to stay true to my values, as they influence my thoughts, my actions, my beliefs, and the direction my life takes.

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I can’t help but wonder, “Are you presently living in accordance with your values?”