Don't wait as long as I did.
At some point in life, we all (hopefully) realize that the notion of proving our worth to the world is well, dumb. Why is it dumb? Because no one is watching. Everyone else is worried about their own standing in the world. And... even if someone is watching, the kind of folks who give attention to those who are trying to prove themselves often are exploitative because they can smell desperation like a hound dog on the scent.
When I was a little girl, I wanted desperately to be a professional ballerina. Later, I dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah– not because I had become an actress or pop star, but because I had contributed meaningfully to the world in some way. I attached to jobs as if they defined me. I fused with romantic partners, mistaking dysfunction for Love. I obsessed about making grave mistakes as a parent, overly concerned whether my kids would “like” me. I sprinted on the spiritual treadmill, earnestly believing that one day I’d “get there.”
What do all of these things have in common? At least two things. One, these patterns are merely part of human nature. And, they are not unilaterally bad or wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having dreams or feeling passionately about your job, for example. A sophisticated view on life informs us that dynamics occur on a continuum and often it is the imbalance of opposite forces that become unhealthy. In Buddhism, attachment to things, stations in life, or even people creates the quagmire. When our identity is found in attachment to the external, we are prone to collapse from within.
When our identity is found in attachment to the external, we are prone to collapse from within.
Two, all of those scenarios emit a striving, a yearning, an always trying. Mind you, there is a healthy approach to trying, striving, and attempting to achieve. To suggest that we should never try is foolish. If that were the case, we’d all be sitting around like blobfish (not to be disparaging of blobfish). It is the attachment to outcome that we must surrender.
The ‘somebody’ that I used to think I needed to be is the same false person that everyone else is chasing– a phantom archetype, which in my case embodied achievement and valor, a person impermeable to hardship and loved by all. That somebody doesn’t exist.
I can’t work hard enough to make someone else value me. I can’t love steadfastly enough to keep someone committed to me. I can’t spiritually perform magnificently enough to earn celestial brownie points.
After having gone through multiple cycles of leaving or losing jobs, friendships, or relationships, what’s left? Me staring at me. And what was I really seeking? Love. I wanted to be loved at work, loved by friends, loved by romantic partners.
Being Loved is the ultimate form of validation for humans. It’s all we really want anyway. There are way too many movies of the gazillionaire miser on his deathbed who dies lonely and miserable, full of regret because everyone has abandoned him. (There Will Be Blood comes to mind.) That hyperbolic trope illustrates the seeking of validation through extraneous means when, in reality, it is Love that is most deeply desired.
A ton of energy and time is wasted in the pursuit of justifying our existence. Bad decisions are made and we are blind to fruitful opportunities staring us in the face. This is not to say that surface level "success" may come to those who are on the Validation Highway. We need not look much further than notable celebrities or executive board rooms for a bouquet of examples. I would argue again that there is an undercurrent of exploitation-exchange going on there sometimes though.
It is the attachment to outcome that we must surrender.
If you think about it, seeking recognition is a form of bypassing. We are not wholly present with where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing because we are chasing the perceived reward that follows. I recently watched Super Pumped about the Uber founder, Travis Kalanick, (who ultimately trampled over his business partner– the person who had actually conceived of the idea of Uber– to be king of the hill). His raw ambition to be at the top of the heap resulted in his eventual ousting from Uber. And now the company has become the back alley pawn shop of ride sharing IMO– the original vision of an über experience having vanished, along with my tofu pho that got to delivered to who knows where.
Rather than rideshare my sense of identity on the coattails of something or someone else, I navigate the road of evolution seeking greater awareness of self, others, and the world. This is where the East meets West in my personal spiritual philosophy. Keep hope, keep striving (which is very Western) but let go of the outcome (very Eastern). It is in this tension where I live.
I no longer think I need to be somebody. I just want to be happy and healthy. I hear that's enough.