My approval rating

In any other life, I might be a celebrity or perhaps running for office.  Such is my obsession with my ‘approval rating’.  i.e. the constant need to fit-in and get approval from people.  The funny thing is, this need for approval is an unconscious one.  I do not post on facebook and count the number of friends I have.  In fact, I get edgy and uncomfortable when somebody praises me.

In the past, I hadn’t quite zeroed in on this thirst for approval.  But something interesting happened over the weekend.  I should have been happy – My job situation is working out, I’ve been off the booze for over six weeks now and as a couple, we are making significant strides in getting a handle on our lives.  Instead, I was weighed down by my black dog and that didn’t seem right.  I went out on a long drive tracing back the events of the past couple of days to figure out what was happening and here’s how it all fit in.

I was comparing my career, achievements, financial well being etc., with that of people I knew.  Friends mainly, which makes it even harder – I am jealous that somebody has it better, followed by judgment that they have it easier in some areas of their life.  Not exactly how you win friends and influence people.  It was triggered by a piece of news that an acquaintance found a job in the same firm that I didn’t get recruited into.  Plus it was becoming very clear that we are running out of funds and we would have to be very careful with our spending.  A double whammy – Somebody else won a prize and would do better in their career plus they had more money to boot.  By this time I’am feeling depressed, worried about the future.  I can’t win this race and I’am a loser.

See, I grew up in a poor family and some of my early childhood experiences (more about those later) have been those of scarcity.  The experience of living on the other side of the tracks  have created some non-negotiable (non-negotiable in my mind) decisions about what a dignified and safe life means.  You do not have dignity, safety or respect if you are poor.  If you are poor, the society does not care about you.  You are not important, a human being, somebody who has a voice and feelings and needs.  You could be a doormat for all they care.  My childhood memories have been about trying to get that respect by being smart and well behaved, hoping to secure enough financially to never having to face scarcity again.  Being smart could be the ticket out of the mess.  Being well behaved since I had to continue to receive the support I needed (cash or kind) and had to suppress the sense of indignity that resulted from said support.  Plus, to show them that I will make it in spite of all their negativity towards me and my own lack of resources.  That I would make up for my deficiencies with my smarts and creativity.  Constantly looking for their approval.  Fighting the ‘not good enough’ tag placed on you, but feeling that way nevertheless.

This is my formula for my approval rating:  Am I marching towards gaining their respect  or approval (through my ‘achievements’) and do I have enough money so I’ll never have to experience such poverty again.  I recognize that this reads like a cartoon super hero fantasy story.  Unfortunately, my adult brain is wired exactly like this (or so it seems).  As any number of wise people and their books would say, I’am living somebody else’s life.  Perhaps this explains my identity crisis.  It’s a bad formula really, since both the variables are not under my control – I cant control what others think about me or my past.  And my current mood reflects how bad the formula is.

What worries me is the sense of depression –  Nothing I do seems to get my approval ratings higher.  I’am now getting to a point where I’am giving up the fight, being a victim – i.e. If only I had a better set of circumstances, I would have done better.  Not a fun place to be in.  Towards the end of my drive, I was desperate to come up with a solution for this and here’s what I need to figure out:  Do I still need an approval rating?  Can I be fine without getting everybody’s respect or a ton of money?

Identity Theft

What I’am talking about is being somebody for everybody, doing things to please everybody and anybody.  Losing touch with who you really are and what you wanted to do.  After a number of years of such existence, you eventually don’t recognize the person in the mirror.

In my case, this is driven by the need to fit in so that I’am not the odd person in a group of people.  The group of people, of course keeps changing.  It might be a bunch of parents and kids in which case I’am the attentive, caring, worried parent.  It might be colleagues in which case I’am the person who can keep calm, handle a situation, who knows it all.  It might be drinking buddies in which case I’am the one closing the bar.  The interesting thing is that each of these examples requires one to live a different life, be a different personality.  Many times, this is driven by fear.  Somehow worried about what the future might hold, or the results of an action or a decision.  Or how my actions might be perceived by others.  You cannot pretend to be liking and doing things while your instincts are crying out for something else.  Faking it for too long is tiring.

What triggered this thought is my frequent ritual of finding a new job.  Here’s how it goes.  The old job somehow did not fit what I wanted.  It was a dead end, or I just lost interest, or it was not going to make me any money.  The reasons can be innumerable, but it’s now time to move on.  Then I look at my resume and the current job market.  As it always happens things have changed since the last time I looked for a job (The tech industry, especially, is notorious for changing fast) and somehow I find myself doing this job search in a hurry, under a deadline, with a dwindling savings account.  In this situation, I’am prone to say ‘yes’ to anything that comes along my way.  Infact, I am desperate to fit into any company (small, large) any job description, any domain of expertise.  More often than not, I’ve been lucky to be hired in some such firm and the whole cycle repeats itself.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, it’s become hard for me, in my own mind, describe who I’am.  Or be able to articulate what I like.  Having made so many compromises and having worn so many masks, I cannot identify myself.  The irony is that the perpetrator of this identity theft is none other than myself.