Stop crying because you didn’t get approval. You don’t need others’ approval. You need your approval, but is that harder to get? Is that why you look outward for it?
I pause and remember what I learned meditating at yoga. Forgiveness. When asked to imagine how it would look and feel to love myself unconditionally, the word forgiveness broke into my consciousness. So, okay, I …once again….went looking for approval in the wrong place, but I can forgive myself. I forgive you for being sad that you didn’t get external approval. I forgive you for wanting it. I forgive you ….but, oh, how I can get addicted to mentally berating myself. I’m like an emotional self-mutilator.
But I can forgive, because there is no time line for self-improvement. There is no finish line. There is no deadline. Moreover, I don’t need external thumbs-ups to know I’m putting in the work. This is about me, not them.
They can walk with me, please. They can cheer me on, thank you. They can discourage me, get out of my way. But there are two crucial parts the “theys” can’t do. They can’t do the work for me, and they can’t provide the measuring stick of my progress. They are not my mirrors. That’s too great a burden to put on another human.
Then, I see what this looks like. How this works when it’s healthy, cause goodness knows, I know plenty of unhealthy ways of turning to my tribe. It’s a memory. I’m just about a month into a new attempt at physical health. The trainers demonstrate an exercise I haven’t tried. They call it an Arnold press. It makes me giggle and self-speak with an Austrian accent. Then, I try the exercise. I always grab the lightest weight. I’ve learned that typing on a computer all day has not produced any arm muscles. This is my weakness. Arm exercises are my kryptonite. My face contorts, it flushes with embarrassment. I scan the room to see who’s looking. Crap, I see a trainer approaching. Is he going to spout off some motivational line about believing in myself? That’s not the problem. I can’t lift it. Is he going to holler at me to PUUUUUSSSSHHHHH? Because, I am, and nothing’s happening. The clock ticks down. That set’s over, and I’ve missed it. Lucky me, another one is on its heels. My eyes sweep the floor and the weight rack, desperate to locate a lighter weight. Go, go, Becca. I try again. I bring my fists in front of my face, and I push with all my might, but they barely reach eye level. He’s in front of me now, silently taking in the situation. I say, I can’t do it. My eyes plead with him to believe that I’m trying. I want him to say, I can put the weight down. Inside, I’m begging him not to be harsh with me. He does something I’ve never seen him do before. He reaches his heavily tattooed arms out to mine, grabs my elbows, and pushs my arms up. He didn’t do all the work for me, but he lightened the load. I glance back and forth between my now moving arms and crack a smile. If I stop pushing my hardest, he lets up and the weight is back on me. Okay, okay, I get. I do my part, he does the rest. After the exercise is over, he speaks for the first time and says, I won’t let you quit, and he walks away.
I think that’s what walking with someone through their struggles looks like. We’re not always strong enough, but if someone else does the work, they make the gains. That’s not loving someone, friends. Sometimes, encouragement and words and just sitting with the struggling soul is all that is needed. But sometimes, they need our strength until they build their own.
So, as I climb further and further above my latest (but surely not last) valley, I forgive the weakness I still have. I remember that those around me are no more my measuring stick of progress than they can be my muscles that I use to do the hard work.
This is my journey. My work. I alone can do it. I alone can judge it. I’m just not alone while doing it, and that is a blessing if I don’t pervert it with approval seeking.