Just one little acknowledgement to show that she understands how much I’ve stretched myself, how much work I’ve put into our relationship, how hard it’s been for me along the way.
I just want to hear that she gets it. That she sees all I’ve done, and that she understands how hard it’s been.
Writing this down, looking at these words, is giving me a bit of déjà vu. I’ve said these things to myself, to my friends, and to my partner for a long time.
It’s everything I want to hear from my mom. And it’s everything I need to say, even though writing it down makes me cringe a little.
My mom has had specific expectations for our relationship.
The problem is, my schedule doesn’t always match up with my mom’s demands. I can’t always be there for her as often as she’d like me to.
My schedule really took a turn in 2009, when my first book was published. Working a full-time job, doing my own promotion, writing more books, being in bands, supporting other local writers at readings and launches, maintaining my other relationships, and taking care of all the day-to-day things that life requires (like laundry and groceries) all made my schedule as tight as can be.
And yet I always made time for my parents, seeing them on weekends for years.
Now, running a business, my schedule is more flexible…but then it’s not, because I have so much to be responsible for.
When it comes to my mom, I’ve always done the best that I can with the time I have.
And yet it never feels good enough. And that’s what I really want to hear from her: That she sees how hard I work. That she sees how hard I try. That she knows I have a lot to do.
In December, I found myself thinking about all of this a lot. I always pay close attention to the things I tell myself, and the thoughts that I keep getting stuck on, because those are often the areas that are ready to break through with an answer.
And then it hit me: I was looking to my mom for validation on how I use my time. I’ve been waiting for her to tell me that I am doing enough, that I am trying hard enough, when really, I’m the one who needs to validate these things for myself.
Because I do question that all the time. I always have.
It’s time I tell myself: I see you trying. I see you working hard. I see all that you are doing.
I need to be my own witness.
How do we know when what we are doing is “enough”? How do we distinguish between a need for external validation and internal validation?
Both are important, but self-validation is so often overlooked. This isn’t something that we learn in school, especially not in a system that glorifies ambition at all costs and pushes young people to decide what they want to be before they even know who they are.
We are taught that validation comes from success and status. That if you set a goal, work hard, and stay focused, you will be rewarded with a job, a handshake, a pay cheque – all external factors, though, all things that another person must recognize you for.
We are taught that popularity validates us. That when we are accepted by others is when we have made it. But what about accepting ourselves? And what kind of pressure does it put on others – who may not even be aware of the responsibility they have here?
And in a time where likes, shares, retweets, comments, open rates, and click-throughs are metrics of success, it’s even tougher for some to feel centered by self-validation.
But at the same time, we’re cautioned against confidence, an area full of mixed messages: We’re supposed to have it, but not show too much of it. We’re supposed to wait to be complimented, recognized, or applauded, and act humble or even oblivious to our own abilities until then.
I remember recently reading an article by a new author who kept getting asked, “How are the sales of your book going?” And yes, it’s an honest question, but one that could invalidate a writer’s experience.
Everyone wants to say that their book is a bestseller. Or that their new play sold out. Or that they landed their dream job within a year of finishing school. Or that they are booked up with clients six weeks out.
But what happens when you don’t get these things? Is all your work for nothing? It can feel that way without any sense of self-recognition.
We are led to believe that validation can from fame, fortune, a great house, a nice car. We are led to believe that the importance of our efforts is weighted by other people’s approval of them.
All of that comes from the outside, though.
Why has it been so important to me that my mom acknowledge all that I have done? Because I had no mechanism set up inside to acknowledge that for myself. Instead, I’ve filled that void with working, again and again, for years.
And that’s robbed me of being able to give myself a break when I deserve one. It’s kept me from acknowledging how far I’ve come in any direction of my life.
I needed to tell myself that I was doing a good job. I needed to tell myself that it was okay if I took a break.
And I needed to see that I have responsibility to do this. As much as I wanted to hold my mom responsible for it, it’s not her job to make sure I get what I need anymore. It’s mine.
I’m all for dreaming big. A hopeless optimist (to the point where it gets me in trouble sometimes in the crushing disappointment that can follow), I love to see goals become reality. Dreams are that much sweeter when they come true, so I rarely set my expectations low.
But no matter what your path is, it is most important to set a different measure of success that starts within.
Go for the killer career, but know why you want it. Don’t do it because you need an employer to tell you that you are talented; tell that to yourself right now.
Create the art you want to see in the world. Don’t do it because you want to be recognized; do it because you want to make something, and when you reach the end of the story, be prepared to pat yourself on the back. Get clear about what you will consider a success, even if no one ever buys what you’ve made.
Take a minute every day to look at all that you’ve done for yourself, no matter where you’re at. We are all making progress.
And most importantly, look at where any need for validation might be holding you back. I’ve seen a lot very talented tarot readers stop themselves from going pro because they’re worried they aren’t “good enough.”
I’ve seen a lot of writers keep their stories hidden because they’re afraid no one will like them.
But you know what else I’ve noticed? That the stuff that feels scariest is what needs to get out there. And sometimes it doesn’t, because of a lack of self-validation.
You never know what others are going to give you. They might not even know you need it, and many aren’t obligated to give you the validation you need anyway.
It’s our own responsibility to do that for ourselves.
Relying on external validation is to rely on a part of life we can’t control. And that might be one of the toughest parts of being a person. Because we all need each other.
But we also need ourselves. And sometimes, the people or places that we constantly look to for validation are actually reflecting back exactly what we need to acknowledge within.