So many people trudge through the world feeling misunderstood or out of place. All too often, we’re socialized to “fit in” and seek acceptance instead of being encouraged to stand out. We’re taught to try our very best every day to look, act, and come across the way other people expect us to.
Until we examine what kind of person we’re trying to be internally, it’s impossible to know why we’re here. Until we know where we’re headed and want to end up, how can we possibly feel even an ounce of fulfillment along the way?
Why are we taught to live our entire lives for everyone around us; everyone except ourselves?
Here’s the simple formula you need to flip the script and start living for the person who will always be there and matter most: you.
Stop Seeking External Validation → Start Striving for Self-Acceptance and Making Others Feel Understood
Understanding Starts With Acceptance
Self-acceptance is the real validation you’ve always been searching for. Wanting to be liked and accepted is human nature, but even the most dedicated people pleasers can never be universally adored.
The variety among us, especially cognitively, is what separates humans from animals. A critical part of this diversity of thought is the broad spectrum of preferences we all have.
Expectations are the Root of all Evil: Seek Acceptance Instead
Breaking free of the bonds of living to fulfill external expectations is a revolutionary act. Freeing ourselves from this confinement requires, before anything else, acceptance. Beyond self-acceptance, we must also accept our own limitations in power and control.
You can’t make everyone like you all the time; it’s just impossible. Certain people will never understand us, and that’s ok. In fact, no one person will relate to everything about you and understand your perspective with 100% clarity.
Fill Life’s Buckets With Self Acceptance and Pride
Rather than trying to accomplish this impossible task of being universally accepted, you just have to show up in the different areas (buckets) of life and find people who like and value you for you. Wherever life brings you, you’ll find endless ways to be fulfilled – by numerous people.
When I first struck out on my own right after college, I was still yearning to be understood by the people who knew me best. Making the conscious decision to stand out and be different meant letting go of this longing I’d felt my whole life. I let go of my urge to fulfill everyone’s external expectations, and started setting expectations of my own.
I realized the people I wanted to surround myself with were the kind of people who would:
- Take the initiative to ask me about my life
- Have an interest in what I was up to
- Understand at some level why I was doing it
- Show care for me and my pursuits
When I started expecting more from those around me, it was really frustrating to realize how much effort I had been making to fulfill others expectations and give them my all when it felt like I wasn’t getting anything in return.
To get my own needs met, too, I learned the hard way I had to begin setting – and communicating- my expectations clearly and effectively.
6 Ways to Start Filling Your Buckets
When looking for ways to develop new interests or learn additional skills to add to your toolbox, it’s tempting to just follow the crowd. Even if it feels intuitive, resist the urge to just jump on the nearest bandwagon or take up the latest fad (trust me- there are already way too many cupcake shops in your town! If you really want to open up a bakery, try something different!)
Instead, pinpoint the communities, topics, and subject matter where YOU find purpose. Chasing success in what others deem fulfilling or worthwhile will only drive a wedge that increases the distance between you and fulfillment. Who cares what other people think is “cool” or worthwhile? Spend your time doing something that actually makes you happy!
Here are some ideas to help you start brainstorming:
- Attend community events
- Join a gym or fitness class
- Sign up for an educational course
- Learn a new art form to tap into your creativity, like pottery, music, or poetry
- Say “yes” more to the opportunities that come your way
- Give back to your community, virtually or physically, by donating to support causes you care about or volunteering in your free time
No matter what you choose to do and which people you surround yourself with to fill your bucket, make sure you stay purpose-driven.
Align these new ventures with your high-level wants, needs, and goals in life. How can the people and activities you select bring you closer to where you want to go, both in the short and long term?
Prioritize the “Who” and “What” When Deciding how to Spend Your Time
Time is the most valuable asset we have. Always be aware of how precious – and limited – this resource truly is. As you start becoming more intentional about the daily building blocks you’re using to pave your path, always consider these two core concepts:
- What you choose to do with your free time
- Who you’re spending your time with
Now that you’ve mapped out how to spend your time more intentionally, think carefully about your social and professional circles. The people we surround ourselves with have a huge impact on who we become.
Consider how each of your relationships are uniquely giving, both for you and for the other person. For every friend, colleague, and neighbor you connect with, be mindful of and grateful for the fulfillment these relationships can bring for both parties.
As you build in intentionality, think about how these stepping stones can bring you closer to being the person you want to become. If you haven’t read our recent article, How One-Degree Pivots Empower You to Build a Better Road to Belonging, it’s a great place to start this process.
Once you’ve oriented your compass in the right direction, consider all the new skill building and growth opportunities you want to incorporate, and identify the people you want to spend your time with, you can synthesize these aspects of self-discovery into a tangible tool by developing a 5-Year Plan to Revolutionize Your Path.
Seek to Understand Yourself First; Acceptance will Follow
Here’s a hint: you may never have a dramatic lightbulb moment that you’ve suddenly “found yourself.” That’s because personal growth and self-discovery are continuous processes that make us better every single day.
By nature, people are dynamic and ever evolving. You are solely responsible for the direction you grow. Take accountability for your personal development by:
- Reading new books
- Listening to interesting podcasts
- Joining clubs and organizations to learn new skills
- Signing up for classes and workshops
Stay accountable in your growth, but be realistic and forgiving, too. Beating yourself up or getting down on yourself will hamper your personal evolution and potential.
I have a great example of how much unexpected growth you can find in an unlikely place. Seeking out activities you enjoy and interests that are fun is so underrated.
Just recently, I joined an improv group after setting a new year’s resolution to put myself out there more and be more interested and interesting. I learned a whole lot more than just acting or jokes. Most importantly, I learned to set the intention to “receive more.”
Why is this so important?
Think of it this way: to “receive” is the opposite of “expect.” Once you start becoming receptive and open, you unknowingly start to accept what’s around you, and offer that acceptance to others.
The Golden Rule Applies to Acceptance, Too
If you live your life in pursuit of external validation, you’ll never feel like you truly belong. Understanding comes from within. The most important advice I can leave you with is to start making people feel the way you want to.
Proactively give others that sense of belonging and understanding you crave. Once you start providing it to others, I promise you will start feeling more fulfilled. At this point, you’ll no longer need to seek it out. Validation, understanding, and acceptance are all waiting within you; the only people you need to ask for is yourself.