Haunted by Approval

Next week, I will turn 42 (the good Lord willing)!

This is the age my father was when he died. To act as if that has not been weighing on me would be inauthentic.

I love my birthday. I really LOVE my birthday. It may be due to the fact I was born in the armpit of winter and celebrating my birthday gives me something to look forward to. Or, maybe I am a self-centered, egotistical asshole. Either way, I celebrate all month long and I have no intention of stopping.

Turning 42 has haunted me from the day my dad died. I wanted to achieve so much with my life – do so many things that he would never have the chance to do. My unwritten, unrealistic expectation was to turn 42 with the knowledge that my dad was proud of me. The problem with this plan – it’s impossible!

I would never get that validation, because he would not be here to witness my life.

So instead, I sought out approval from every other corner of my life. From grades, to sports, to career choices, outside validation became the measuring stick of my worth.

Am I good enough? Says who…always you, never me.

My desires, my reasons were never enough.

I required the co-signing of other people’s opinions.

I spent so much time worrying about what everyone thought of everything I did, I forgot that the first person I need to be accountable to and approve of is ME!

If you disagreed with how I did things, my first inclination was to question myself. I couldn’t possibly be right, if someone questioned me.

I feel so much empathy for that girl, today.

So rigid. Functioning out of fear. And judging herself constantly.

The girl who never felt secure – in her thoughts, her actions, her dreams and even her own skin. I didn’t want to be liked as much as I wanted to be right, validated for being me.

Along with my birthday celebration, February also brings the anniversary of my dad’s death. I remember every detail of that morning, to my mother’s voice telling me he’s gone to the emptiness that filled our home with the absence of his presence. I remember feeling helpless and a strong desire to do something, anything that made sense because the realization that my father, the strongest person I knew, was not coming home was inconceivable. Not only my brain, but my soul refused to accept it.

I did not want to be a cautionary tale, a girl with daddy issues who sought comfort in all the wrong ways. I channeled my fear into action and the race to perfection began. It was a game of whack-a-mole.

School struggles?? Nope-fixed it!

Typical teenage antics?? Not me!

Grieving correctly?? Sure am!

“Nothing to see here! I’m fine.”

So at the ripe ole age of 14, I set the expectation of perfection. All the while, managing overwhelming grief from the loss of my parent and not processing this with anyone.

The real achievement is that I am alive to tell this tale.

And my career choice…helping people, of course. Because what better way to hide from my troubles than to dive head-first into someone else’s?

For the next 25 years, I spent my life chasing approval from a ghost, setting a bar of achievement to an unreachable level and berating myself along the way for not being what I was “supposed” to be. I did not do this without many failures and much self-inflicted pain.

The theme of not feeling “good enough” has been heavy on my mind recently.

The pressures from work. The failures at home. The lack of peace of mind. These are common struggles I hear during therapy sessions as well as in my own thoughts.

We all are hurting.

We all have failures.

We all need more peace.

Right before COVID hit, I promised myself I would not have a ‘mid-life’ crisis when I turned 40. I would cross that threshold with grace and embrace aging.

Though it may have looked more like a brace-for-landing situation rather than a graceful entrance into my forties, here I am nonetheless.

What I did have was an awakening.

I realized what I had been doing to myself my entire adult life. I looked around and saw no one was keeping score, but me.

No one (that mattered) judged me for my pain or my faults.

I was my own worst enemy standing right in my way.

With no plan, other than change I promised myself I would learn to love and be proud of me. That became my guiding manta – I would trust myself above all else.

Since that birthday, I have made huge strides in that change.

I am more comfortable in my own skin, but there are days I still cover up and fight that shaming voice.

I am confident in my accomplishments, but there are moments I suffer from imposture syndrome.

I find purpose and peace in my day, but I fight storm of chaos to gain perspective.

What I’ve learned is, struggling does not define my life, I do. I write this narrative. I validate my experience.

I have hard days. I cry often because it heals me. I soak in my bathtub to let go of the day. I talk to my therapist to unpack my baggage. I still have hard days, the difference is I don’t live there all the time.

This is not a how-to-post. I do not know a secret. I have not found an “answer”, I found options. When letting go of expectations, some of my rigid ways went also. The more I let go of, the more my mind opened up to opportunities for a more peaceful existence. I blew up the walls that confined the narrow path I traveled for so long, to uncover unlimited choices for where I want to go next. Empathy and intentionality became more comfortable to me. I started to give myself grace and felt lighter. Grace and options are a beautiful combo.

I have rough times, not a rough life. I define my own narrative. Change promises change. My job is to navigate my journey and be accountable to myself.

My life is beautiful chaos, simply because I say so.

So 42, I am ready for you! I embrace this birthday full of gratitude and a ton of grace to give myself as I mess-up, succeed and enjoy all the moments (even the ugly ones because that is part of my story). I miss my dad all the time. There are still moments I pause to look for his nod of approval. However, I no longer chase that impossible expectation. I am learning to be proud of myself, because I am enough.

I am not finished. More to come.

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