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?

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The ego v/s simply giving and doing

I’ve been in this self discovery mode for the last few months and in the process I realized something profound.  You see I’ve been struggling with unhappiness, being dissatisfied, alcohol and other addictions for some time now.  These problems or issues are pretty complicated and unsolvable by an engineer (me) and I’ve realized that it requires a philosopher or a Buddhist monk, which I’am not.  I’ve been reading a number of books about meditation and spirituality and there was something in this book which made me realize that the ego, what is called ‘me or I’ has been very strong in my life.  I spend a lot of time making sure that I’am first and foremost taking care of me.  Not in a ‘good’ taking care of yourself way, but with a more selfish motive.  It could be that I’am making sure that my needs are met above everything else, that no body finds out about my weaknesses, that my time is protected, that my mistakes are not recognized etc. etc.  This is my ego playing it’s role, making sure that I take care of myself first.  Every action I take upon closer inspection has an ulterior motive behind it.  The motive is typically to be recognized, get a pat on the back, for my action to lead to something important or big.  My realization is that in this process I’ve not contributed a whole lot back to the world.  I’am so busy taking care of ‘me’ that I often do not give back what I can to my work or my colleagues.  I’am busy thinking about the best possible outcome for ‘me’ that I actually tie myself into knots and become anxious, playing chess in my own mind.  How best I can control the future, use the best options to give me the best results?  How can I make sure that something I do now will lead to recognition, monetary benefits (better job, better something) in the future?  How can I be perfect so that others cannot point a mistake with what I’ve done (this is happening as I type out these words – will people find fault with my sentences, grammar, prose etc.  I’ve already decided that I am not advertising this blog, so who’s gonna read it?  But still I have to be perfect you see)  In reality it has rarely worked and to the contrary I’ve become stressed out, isolated, unhappy, less confident about myself, but I still continue to do so.  This is a tiring way to live – I seem to be doing things for ‘somebody’ and some unknown outcome in some unknown future.  How about just living and doing something that I feel like doing, without any strings attached?  So today I thought the following :  Why not start contributing back to the world?  Why not do something without an ulterior motive behind the action.  Why not do something which is not driven by my ego.  So here’s my blog with my experiences as I go on this journey to discover myself, beat my addictions and be a better person.  I do not know who will read this, but hopefully it will make sense and help somebody out!  I will honestly strive to have no other motive or allow my ego to get in the way from this stated goal.