What's the Deal With External Validation? The Struggle to Love My Own Life
Ever since I left my happy little childhood nook in northern Idaho for college in Indiana, I've been on an insatiable search. I'm constantly seeking inspiration and affirmation that everything I'm feeling (restlessness and loneliness) and doing (switching jobs and moving across the Pacific Ocean every 6 months) isn't crazy. Pictures, words, conversations, experiences...all of it. I've scoured Pinterest boards that glitter with photos of beautiful far-out places, snuggled in bed with quote books filled with happy thoughts and meaningful mantras, poured over self-help books about following your dreams and exploring your passions, and dived into long conversations with other twenty-somethings who struggle with the same life questions I do. I've spent countless mornings reflecting over coffee and plenty of evening musings over wine. There's this huge turmoil within me, a roiling storm brewing over my life choices and my speculation over if they're actually made for the right reasons. I'm trying to sort through what's working, and what's not. I want to fill my life with things that make me come alive, and toss aside the things that turn me into an angry, bitter introvert.
But here's the sad thing. Through this entire discernment process, I've found myself looking to others around me to assure me that the choices I'm making aren't crazy, that I'm doing it "right." I hungrily absorb the voices in my life that have been around since I was little (parents, friends, neighbors), the ones that appeared in high school and college (teachers, counselors, new friends), and the ones that I've become acquainted with in the process of my insatiable search (travelers, roommates, random strangers, bosses). I look to the people around me who I admire and try to compare my life to theirs. I panic a little when it doesn't match up. They've been to more countries than me. They're better at public speaking. They're making five times as much as me, and they're younger than me. They've found the love of their life already. They are super close with their family. Although it might sound dramatic, I really and truly too often forget that the most important voice to listen to when determining what I like, what I do, and how I feel is my own voice.
Listening solely to these outside voices can be damaging, but perhaps it's part of human nature. We are creatures who need companionship, and it can become a habit to seek validation or reassurance from our companions. We look up to them, we admire them, and sure, we do need them in certain areas of our life. But we don't need them to live our life for us or show us how to do it. We don't need to mirror our lives to look like theirs, or anyone else's, even if theirs might look prettier, seem easier, or feel more epic.
This is my life. Why do I feel like I need a pretty little quote written by someone else to justify my intense desire to always be seeking new experiences? To want to feel that incredibly addicting heart-pounding adrenaline when you're gazing upon a beautiful epic vista that you've never seen before? To assure me that my inability to maintain a steady relationship is okay, is normal, is fine? Why do I need some sort of validation for my independence and restlessness? Why can't it just be what it is, and me be who I am, the unique individual fighting her own battles and scaling her own mountains, just like every other person around her?
But it isn't that easy. I still get down on myself when people ask why the hell a chemical engineer is working as a naturalist on a boat. Disclaimer: I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life in college, so I picked a major and I went with it. And yes, I do like to challenge myself, I don't like the easy path, and I thought I wanted to do something that didn't really require a particular major (med school). So I chose engineering. Other disclaimer: I still don't know what the heck I want to do with my life. This used to bother me. It doesn't anymore. But what bothers me is the intense speculation others turn upon me when they realize my journey doesn't match their idea of normal, doesn't make sense to them, doesn't seem practical.
And it's in those moments, when I don't get the external validation that I'm often looking for, that I finally achieve a momentary rush of clarity and am able to forge my own validation from within. Because if those around me doubt what I'm doing, who else is there to turn to but myself? It's a scary, empowering realization. And although these flashes of clarity don't last for long, I know they exist, and when I'm feeling vulnerable, knowing that I'll feel strong again at some point is sometimes enough in itself.
I'm my biggest cheerleader. I tell myself that it is in my power to be remarkable. And it's in yours, too. It's in everyone's power. All you need to do is tell yourself that. You can make anything happen. Take courage in your own decisions, and follow your gut. God, I love my gut. No one else has your gut. Or your eyes. Or your hair, or your heart, or your spunk and zest and passion and mood swings. Go, be a beautiful, unique ray of radiant light that sprinkles a pixie dust on the world that no one else can. And don't look to anyone else for reassurance. Just know that you're doing it exactly right when you're doing it because it felt right to you.