I remember sitting down with my boss after 14 months in my professional career. Since I had just begun reporting to him, I asked if I was ‘doing OK’. He responded with a question, ‘What do you think?’. I had to pause – because, in that moment, I didn’t know. He looked me in the eye and said ‘You have to become your own evaluator and your own cheerleader. You will have good bosses and bad bosses – sometimes they will not be correct in their assessment of you. You must be able to accept their feedback and use your own self-evaluation about whether you have done a good job or a poor job. You must develop the skills to rely on, and trust, yourself as the judge.’ His comments created a pivotal point in both my career and in my life. Was I going to be internally validated, using my own knowledge and judgement, or externally validated, using everyone else’s judgement about me?
Most people have some blend of internal and external validation. The mischief comes in when the external validation is proportionally much higher than the internal validation. At its extreme, you may stop trusting yourself and only believe you are OK if someone else tells you. This can be dangerous. Being externally validated means putting your trust into everyone who is external to you – whether or not they are knowledgeable or qualified to make the judgement. It also assumes that they have no stake in the outcome – that they are altruists who are only trying to give you good feedback. There are likely people that you can trust to give you honest feedback – but that isn’t everyone who gives you feedback. When it is in the correct proportion, external validation is like frosting on the cake – it is nice to have, but it is not required for you to know that you are OK and that you did well. Said differently, if the external validation feels good and just confirms what you already knew, then the external validation is in its correct position and magnitude.
Social media has inserted itself into validation and can magnify the issue. It is set up to ‘encourage’ you to value and seek out external validation through the media. It is a terrible cycle – you feel down so you post on social media hoping to get responses. Then, the number of likes is counted and how fast they come in. If the target number of likes isn’t received, and you say to yourself, ‘they don’t like me’, or ‘what I did wasn’t good’, then there is a problem. It isn’t surprising that multiple studies show higher rates of depression for people who use Facebook than for people who do not use Facebook. Shakti Gawain the author said, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.” To gain back the power, many seek more external validation – making the downward cycle continue. It is a no-win situation.
Being internally validated requires that there is real honesty in who you are and how you are performing. It requires a look in the mirror. On the days you are the person you want to be, and/or you do well, there is a congratulations. Additionally, there is an acknowledgement of you, and your accomplishment, so that it integrates into your self-esteem. On the days you aren’t the person you want to be, and/or don’t do as well, there is recognition of what is lacking, a confirmation of who you want to be and what you want to do, and a re-commitment to doing your best on the next day. It sounds simple, but it takes practice. The practice gives you shielding and protection against outrageous comments. It also gives you the ability to trust your own judgement, take in external feedback, assess its value, and use, or discard, it appropriately.
It is worth the effort to examine and change the focus of your validation. Focus more on the internal validation and support yourself in being strong, confident, resilient, and powerful. Work on growing your internal validation and weaning yourself off from external validation. It will be frosting – nice but not required. Your voice will be the one you listen to the most and trust and you will have become your own cheerleader!
Let us know how we can support you in becoming your own cheerleader!