Image above: by Gina Milicia, Flower Farmer, Ubud, Bali
“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”
When I was 7, I got my pen license. It was a piece of paper signed by my grade two teachers Mr. Kotter (names changed to protect the innocent).
My pen license was a big deal. It meant I had finally hit the big time. I’d made it to the next level, and I had the certificate to prove it. Finger paint, crayon, and printing were a distant memory. I was now in the high flying world of cursive writing. It was one of my earliest memories of being validated, and it felt good, but deep down I knew I was ready, so why did I crave Mr. Kotter’s approval so much? Why do we continually seek validation from others?
Does my bum look big in these jeans?
Was it good for you?
Do you like my new couch, profile picture or tv show I’m binge-watching?
Seeking validation from others is an addiction that can never be satisfied. Roger J. Corless summed it up perfectly when he said: “It’s like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.”
I can remember the first time I shared a photo on Instagram. I had zero expectations and shared an image that I loved. It was probably shite, but three people liked it. Three people who I wasn’t related to and who didn’t know me from a bar of soap loved my picture! I felt like I’d just won a million bucks, but then I felt the pressure to post again, and doubt and fear of failure had me second guessing my next post. I scrutinized every pixel as if my life depended on it and at that moment it did.
What if I post and only get two likes or no likes? If nobody likes my work I believed it meant I was a failure. I needed a hit of validation.
It took me two days to become an Instagram, validation junkie. I spent the next few years chasing the dragon. I wanted to feel the euphoria of that first hit.
For years I only posted images that were carefully curated to get maximum likes. I worked out a formula, sunsets and sunrises get lots of likes, so do pictures of good- looking models. Good-looking models photographed at sunset are even better and good- looking models, showing lots of skin at sunset were the Instagram jackpot.
I was taping sandwiches all over my body and slowly starving to death.
“As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are, by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself. No one can give you that. You have to know who you are — what others say is irrelevant.”
― Nic Sheff
Approval addiction is the enemy of creativity. My work directed by an outside force and fear of failure. I felt empty.
The turning point for me was when I started to photograph and share the kinds of images that I liked.
My style started to evolve, from bright and poppy (this is what everyone else likes) to dark and moody character shots. I felt the euphoria again, but this time it was coming from a place I could control. The images were authentic, these are my passion projects. It’s not popular or pretty, but this kind of work fills me up.
The best part about this story is the moment I found my authentic voice the energy in my images changed. You can’t fake passion, and you can’t please everyone unless your name is Nutella, so you may as well shoot and share the kind of work that you love in a way that is meaningful to you.
Seeking external validation is giving away your power and leaves you unsatisfied. Fill yourself up first and watch what happens.