Do We Really Need Validation?

Do We Really Need Validation?

The gift and the shadow in our pursuit of confidence.

Sometimes we run away from the very thing we’re asking for.

See me. Don’t see me. See me, please! I’ve done so many things worth admiring. Wait – don’t. I’m not worthy. I lack confidence. I’m not sure I can live up to that reputation. What if they find out?

In the world of women’s leadership, a lot of emphasis gets placed on developing “confidence.”  Yet true confidence is not something that can be pursued like a SMART goal.

In fact, when we take a closer look at the pursuit of confidence as a holy grail we begin to see the dark side of women’s empowerment movement.

It goes something like this:

  • I don’t think I have enough confidence. So, I assess that I need to build it.
  • In order to build confidence, I must learn something I don’t know, or look for something outside of myself that is the answer to what I’m apparently missing.
  • So, I go looking. I learn proven tactics. I try on strategies that have worked for others. I strike a power pose.
  • I learn new skills. I build my resume. I build my brand.
  • Now I'm chasing and grasping what I was hesitant about before. And yet, it’s actually just the other side of the same coin.
The truth is: authentic, embodied confidence asks us to play a totally different game.

In order to experience the kind of unshakeable confidence that we imagine we will need to lead our organizations through uncertain and even perilous times – in order to become the type of leader who both trust her instincts and also is resilient in the face of a grave mistake – we must first face our relationship with validation.

So… do we NEED validation?

(Do a gut check with yourself first… do YOU?) The broad answer to this question is complicated.

On one hand, the answer is NO. And if it has you in its grasp, you’re liable to suffer.

Seeking validation – pursuing accolades, striving to be seen, understood, and loved – can lead us to engage in behavior that takes us miles away from our own center. Unfortunately, this can kick off a self-fulfilling prophecy cycle that breaks down, rather than builds up, our confidence over time.

The farther away I am from the real me, the harder it is to trust and embrace myself. The harder it is to trust and embrace myself, the less confident I ultimately become.

On the other hand, the answer is a resounding YES.

Validation – acknowledgement, appreciation, being seen and simply recognized for our existence – can be one of the most important and nourishing gifts we can give another person (and ourselves!)  For example, in a healthy relationship of any kind, feeling the sincere gratitude and appreciation of another person beaming in our direction can serve as a mirror for what we love and admire about ourselves.

This alignment of self-validation and the validation of another can begin to lay the foundation of a healthy, self-witnessing confidence that knows what it feels like to be operating at my best – from the inside out.

Having spent nearly twenty years coaching women leaders in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors, I believe validation is both an important topic and an extra-complicated topic to address.

The real answer to the question, “what is a healthy relationship with validation?” is usually: It depends.

On what? Your stage of professional growth and current calibration.

For example,

I’m currently a part of several learning communities in which people get rewarded with admiration or even public recognition when they perform their duties well. Even with twenty years of personal development under my belt, I can still find myself comparing myself to other people (especially women!) – “how ‘come she got the praise for that?” Yes. Sometimes I get jealous. Yes. Sometimes I feel ridiculous about it. But I do have an ego. And Ido sometimes compare.

And yet, when I truly sit with the truth in the situation, I can see that what I actually needed THIS time was an opportunity to practice humility. Not because praise is bad. But because I have a pretty healthy (read: strong) ego if I’m truly honest with myself. And because sometimes NOT getting noticed – allowing someone ELSE to get the glory this time – is actually the right medicine for me.

Depending upon your own calibration (and phase of your growth journey) you might need to receive less external validation, to practice humility and begin cultivating a sense of validation within yourself.

On the other hand, you might be in a phase where you do need the support of trusted others to fully see yourself. In this case, the scaffold of a trusted other reflecting your strengths, gifts, or even just your existence, can be a helpful and healthy ingredient for your professional growth.

It’s a delicate dance. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The people around you may opinions. For more ideas, you can take a class or read a book.  

But in order to answer the question “do I NEED validation?” for yourself, you’ll need to take a deeper look in the mirror.

Here are a couple of reflection questions to get you started:

  • What are the ways I’ve tried and failed to build my confidence over the past 3-5 years? What are the ways I’ve tried and succeeded?
  • How am I calibrated when it comes to validation? (I’m desperate for it, I avoid it, I don’t need it, I feel numb about it, etc)
  • In what domain or domains do I tend to seek (or resist) validation from others?
  • What’s working about that seeking? What isn’t?
  • What’s one next healing or growth step I could take this month?

If this theme of validation speaks to you (even if you’re not sure why, or you don’t THINK you really need it!) I invite you to take a few days to sit with these questions.

Explore them in writing. But also observe yourself in action.

What are you learning about your own need for validation – and the ways it is (or isn’t!) serving you – at this time?

With sincerity and compassion,

PS – if you want more support, we can help:

  • Apply for a Free Discovery Call to get personalized 1:1 coaching support to re-calibrate and develop a 3-part personal/professional growth plan.
  • Take the Four Keys Quiz for free to uncover your biggest growth area this year.
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