As human beings I suppose it’s natural to seek outside validation. We’re taught to do well at school to impress the teachers and get good jobs. We’re judged all our lives based on skills, style, ambitions. We have to make our parents proud, and we always strive to gain the respect of our peers.
When we’re told that we should only seek validation, respect and love from ourselves, or that the only opinion that matters is our own, we sometimes struggle to see how that attitude could be fulfilling or help us move onwards and upwards in life.
As a professional musician, I signed up for a job that relies entirely on outside validation. No matter how great I think my music is, I’m not going to sell any records if my audience doesn’t enjoy it too. As much as creative people pursue careers in art, writing or music in order to fulfil their own passions, it’s the validation of others that has the power to propel them or stop their career in its tracks.
So when the world stopped in 2020, and we were forced to spend time with ourselves, instead of others, where could we turn for this validation we’ve always so desperately craved? Of course, there’s always social media. A quick OOTD photo on Instagram in the hope of “you look fire, guuuurl” comments. A tweet to let people know about the thing you accomplished today. But where I found myself looking for validation, more than ever before, was inwards. I looked to myself. And I’m a better person for it.
When I was younger, I never sought validation from others — aside from my family. What society thought about the way I dressed or the things I chose to do really didn’t bother me. I was never ashamed of the choices I made, never embarrassed to admit my love for music or fashion others thought odd or rubbish. But as I got older, I’m sad to say, outside validation became more important to me. Whilst I continued to enjoy the things I did, despite what others thought about them, I started to do so more quietly, worried about how others would perceive my foibles.
I would dress how I felt comfortable, but not always how I really wanted to. I only felt comfortable because others liked it, and not because I felt like me. A battle with low self-esteem and anxiety made this even more of an issue and I felt increasingly more aware of how I was being perceived by society — or, at least, how I thought I was being perceived by society. I enjoyed it when people told me I looked good, even if I didn’t think it myself. I’d post pictures of myself on social media, and when I didn’t get the comments I wanted, I felt sad and ugly. Even if I’d posted it genuinely thinking I looked good. I believed that if society didn’t think I looked good, I shouldn’t think it either. I did things I wasn’t too keen on just to make people like me and was warmed by the knowledge that they were happy with me or respected me, even if I didn’t feel particularly great about doing the thing. But it never made me feel truly fulfilled or happy. It never felt like I was gaining anything or getting anything from the experiences. Ultimately, the validation I sought just wasn’t enough.
When the world shut down and our social lives went on pause, suddenly there was nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to dress up for, no one to hide my weird habits from. I could indulge in my hobbies without fear of judgement. I could learn new skills without worrying about looking like a fool when I failed. A certain freedom came with isolation. I had no one to make happy except for myself. I didn’t need to earn anyone’s respect. I could play whatever music I wanted, however loudly I wanted, without fear of snarky comments. I could wear what I actually wanted to, without worrying about people giving me weird looks or making comments. I thrived. I learned how to love myself based on my own framework, seeing myself through my own lens, and not another person’s. I adopted an attitude that I’ve brought with me as we come out of lockdown and society starts up again, and I am happier, prouder, more confident and more full of love than ever before.
There is no more important validation in the world than “if it’s making you happy, it’s great.” Providing, of course, that it’s not hurting anyone else. People won’t love you less for wearing clothes they think are weird, or don’t suit you. Your friends won’t judge you for the music you love. And if they do…they’re not your friends. Instead, what will happen is that people will be drawn to you for embracing the things you love and sharing them unabashedly with the world. People are drawn to those who are truly happy. And those who are truly happy don’t seek validation. It’s true what they say. You can’t make others love you if you don’t love yourself. You can’t make others happy if you, yourself, are unhappy. So validate yourself, embrace yourself, love yourself and that love will spread out into the world around and get reflected back to you a thousandfold.
And yes, I do still post OOTD pictures and tweets about my achievements. But now I do it because I know I look great, I know I did great, I’m proud of myself and I want to share my self-love with others. And that is a powerful thing.