Do you ever see pictures or posts from your classmates on Facebook and think, “really, that’s so-and-so?! But they’re just an ordinary person, like me!” Particularly the men and women who were once “the popular kids,” arbitrators of all things “cool.” They were up there on a pedestal in high school: the golden ones, the jocks and the cheerleaders. Now they’re posting about their job or sharing photos of their kids or seeking support for a health issue, and you realize that they’re fully human.
My brother (left) and I at DisneyWorld in 1985. Photo by Aunt Peg.
I was very shy as a kid, and I had no idea how to be “cool,” which in the 1980s meant “preppy.” I tried. Which was probably my first mistake. I even read books about it – yes, I owned The Official Preppy Handbook. I was so busy trying to be like someone else that I couldn’t see the positive qualities that were mine.
Like many of us, I gave away my power to the kids I thought had it all together. But it was an illusion. I was making assumptions. They were just kids, too, just regular people, like me, with their fears and hopes and worries.
Why do we do this? Why do we idealize others and seek their blessings on who we are? I think, for those of us who attended public school, it’s because we were taught to do so.
First there were the teachers, whose approval or disapproval ruled our days. For the most part, what was rewarded was not creativity, but rather memorization and reiteration of what they had just told us one or two classes ago. They were in charge of our everyday experience, and I for one wanted those gold stars and A grades.
It was natural to continue that approval-seeking in the realm of clothes, music, and dating. The kids who had a bit more self-confidence, or excelled at things the kid community valued, like sports or fashion, became the leaders by default. You either sought their endorsement, or rebelled against it and formed alternate groups.
Some of us took a long time to get away from that type of behavior. We transferred it to college, careers, and keeping up with the Joneses. Sometimes you don’t even realize when you’re giving away your power. Awareness is the first step.
These days, I feel I’m finally becoming free of my old approval-seeking ways. It’s so liberating. Seeing my childhood heroes show up as regular middle-aged folk on Facebook has certainly helped. So has nurturing my own unique abilities, and letting go of comparisons to others and the things they can do. We all bring our own talents, skills, and positive qualities to this lifetime.
You can’t be good at everything, nor should you expect that from yourself.
Realize that you are the one in charge of your own experience. You’re the one who gets to decide where to put your energies. Sure, there are still external factors that you need to consider; for example, your boss or clients will need to like what you’re offering.
But you don’t need to please everyone.
It works best, in fact, when you start with approving of yourself, with doing good work that you can be proud of and nurturing your gifts. Begin to reclaim your power by setting goals that truly matter to you, then working steadily toward them. Practice. Try, and fail, and try again. Take small steps toward your goals every single day. Let yourself learn and grow. Surround yourself with people who appreciate and respect you.
If you want to go even deeper with it, you can visualize yourself revisiting the past. Talk to your child self as the mentor you’ve always wanted. Be reassuring. Gently embrace the fearful child inside you who just wanted to belong. Know that all is well.
You’re here, you’re amazing, and you already belong fully, just as you are.