Breaking Dependance on External Validation
The need for external validation is something I have struggled with, not always consciously, but it's certainly been a part of my life ever since I was young. Changing from an introvert to an extrovert did not mean I knew how to be an extrovert and in many ways I'm still not comfortable with a "public self." While I mostly love the company of other people and I think I'm adept at picking out amazing individuals to surround myself with, I see that I have also fallen into a troubling trap of always needing that feeling of validation from others. This is especially true of the people around me; to feel like I'm worthy or doing things that are worthwhile.
I don't know why exactly, and even now, while fully accepting this flaw I cannot dissect it perfectly. If anything, though, I think the constant need, if not dependance on external validation is a reflection of latent insecurities. So how to climb out without hitting rock bottom (and thus having nothing to be validated externally)? How can I find my own validation from within? For is that not the root of true happiness and self-fulfillment?
Well, as every cliché saying goes, it's never too late to change, and understanding this problem is the first step.
This scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, as stupid as it may sound, even in the movie I chuckled, has recently been rattling around my head. Sean Penn, the hardcore, adventurer National Geographicesque photographer, while out in the mountains of the Himalayas, finally catches glimpse of a snow leopard. Surely an animal as beautiful and rare as a snow leopard crossing in front of a lens' crosshairs would be a heart racing moment to capture that perfect shot.
I think I would have been racing to hit that shutter button as many times as possible while constantly setting up the next shot. But Sean Penn, just looks at the creature. Walter asks him with exhausted bemusement: "aren't you going to take the picture?" and Sean replies, "sometimes its just for me," and pulls his hand off the camera shutter. Something like that anyway.
Yes, the scene is hackneyed, laughable almost, but can I do what Sean did? Do I have the courage to do that. To not hit the shutter button. Which, in this case, represents external validation. Sure, he may have won awards for that image, been able to see it hung on walls and in magazines, and showed off this amazing animal to the world, to bring wonder and joy to others, because as photographers and filmmakers that's what we do. But he didn't. He had the courage and the confidence to enjoy one for himself, without any need for external validation.
I get it Sean. Honestly, I'd probably still take that picture. Maybe I'm saying that because my bank account is not that healthy at the moment. Maybe because the rush may be just irresistible. Certainly I'm too plugged-in to social media, to this world of digital sharing. Would I fear regret if I did not take that photo? Why would I regret such a beautiful moment?
Deep down, I know I like sharing experiences with others, not for myself, but because I like to give. I find joy in giving, inspiring when I can, teaching. It's not overtly selfish, but I recognize that I too benefit from doing this. At the same time, I do also seek validation from others. But this I have the power to change, because, again, those fears and insecurities are within me; I need to decide to accept, learn and grow beyond them.
So back to the same question, could I do what Sean did? Do I have the willpower to pull my finger off the shutter button, breathe, take in that one beautiful moment, and let is pass. Let is pass without strings or conditions attached, and not feel any regret, only joy?
Honestly, I cannot yet answer that question truthfully. I don't know. But at the same time, if I had been asked this question last week, I would have confidently said no. I would have hit that shutter button a hundred times. Now, I can see that the joy from capturing such an image is certainly a high, but maybe only because it presents itself for a high degree of external validation, but the moment itself, the moment of seeing that leopard, that's the real stuff, thats the highlights of life that you look back on and say, "damn I was really living."
I love photography and filmmaking. That's why I'm pursuing this path, because I actually love the feeling of framing a shot or imagining a scene in my mind, formulating stories and telling them through incredible visuals. However, sometimes I want to enjoy moments for me. Maybe I still take a photography, but I just never share it. I keep it. It's not for others, but to just jog my own memory of the experience. Sometimes I don't bring a camera or phone at all, I just unplug completely and enjoy the tranquility of nature, whether in solitude or with someone else. I can travel alone to uncover new things about myself that I did not previously know and at the same time overcome these insecurities.
I feel a sense of security in that I know I have incredible friends and people around me. But part of true security is knowing and accepting that I don't need to be constantly surrounded by them. I can break that dependency. Yes, I have this FoMo (fear of missing out) thing going on sometimes, not as extreme as others I know, but in the back of my mind its there too. But then, I ask myself, what am I missing and what opportunity am I giving up?
Every decision in life is an opportunity cost. So, pick your opportunities as best as you can. Best is specifically vague, because best is not really about living for the validation of others (unless that's your thing), but being perfectly happy and comfortable living for yourself. I don't mean this in a hedonistic, selfish way, but rather in a more genuinely wholesome way, with confidence, and conviction perhaps.
Breaking a dependance on external validation is, at the end of the day, highly internal. It's a decision to see things differently and, as banal as it may sound, understand why Sean does not take that picture, because he decided that that moment was for himself. We all need those moments.