Monday, October 31, 2011

I Don't Need Approval From a Chosen Few

There are many obstacles which wedge themselves between myself and my desire to produce awesome work. Some of the more obvious obstacles include barriers that are placed by powers that be, missing adequate resources for greatness to happen, and the dissonance between my goals of making awesome and the workplace goals that are imposed upon by the superiors. However, there is another insidious, damaging obstacle which get in the way of wanting to make awesome: this is called the desire to seek approval--from everyone in the workplace, school, peer group, or whatever. And this obstacle is, surprisingly, mostly self-imposed.

It's accurate to say that most of us have been raised to conform within the confines of whatever social or cultural groups which we identify as being part of--whether family, socioeconomic, peer, cultural, or even subcultural. In simplistic terms, we've been raised with the concept of the "in-crowd" versus the "out-crowd": the former involve behaviors based upon agreed-upon norms, values, and expectations while the latter involve systematic categorization of those outsiders whose behaviors, real or imaged, are deemed to be heretical (even though they may be caused by misunderstandings). People generally seek comfort in surrounding themselves with birds of the same feathers instead of taking time to understand those with different markings or lenses in which they see life through. Maybe it's the lizard brain in action, but the drive towards safety and comfort leads people to stick with the tried and the true, at home or in the workplace. This is why the silo mentality exist in many workplaces.

Sometimes the lizard brain takes over. The worst year ever in my teen days was during my junior year in high school, when I was very fixated on receiving approval from all of the fragmented, diverse "groups" which I spent time with, including (but not limited to) choir/band geeks, football teammates, the New Waver crowd, the National Honor Society peeps, and anyone else whom I had something in common with. I spent a good part of that school year unhappy and disgruntled that I didn't fit in completely with any of the so-called arbitrary "groups." I'm not sure exactly what I did to overcome the turmoil at that school year, but I remembered that during my senior year, I adopted a "don't give a damn" attitude. Somehow my relationship with my peers, regardless of whatever social "sphere" they associated themselves with, improved significantly. I felt at ease with myself and with whomever I happened to be around with at the time (as a note of interest, I reconnected with many of those choir/band geeks, football teammates, the New Waver crowd, the National Honor Society peeps, and anyone else from that era several decades later through the technological magic of Facebook--perhaps this is a sign that the superficiality of the "in-crowd" and the "out-crowd" is no match for the friendships and relationships which have been built on genuine interests and bonding experiences, which mature over time).

Fast forward couple of decades later, I found myself in the same situation just recently. Somehow the unpleasant memories of seeking approval were more than happy to make an encore appearance. Maybe my sense of self-esteem was debilitated by a series of unexpected life events, including the recent passing away of a parental unit. I started to believe that my worthiness at work (and my being) was highly dependent upon seeking the approval of those people whom I worked with every day. With the inclusion of the "anonymous 360-degree feedback" process as part of the annual review process, I was completely floored when some of those anonymous reviews included unsubstantiated comments which had no basis in truth or context, but in pettiness. The whole anonymous process encouraged faceless and nameless individuals to submit narratives of my work without any opportunity for me to clarify what the perceived issues were about. As a direct result, I became paranoid about everyone, and started to focus more on making sure that I wasn't taking missteps instead putting my energy into making awesome. I was fixated on walking on eggshells instead of making incredible omelettes. My work began to suffer, and my confidence was taking a big hit. After all, if I wasn't working towards placating the opinions of those anonymous folks whose opinions matter in this game, that would make me a terrible team player, right?

That is one f---ed up way to approach work.

Maybe the anonymous, chickenshit reviewers got what they wanted. Perhaps they saw that I was more interested in pushing the boundaries of what I can possibly accomplish--leaving good for great--than to play the part of the plebe whose mission is to perpetuate the silo mentality by not straying far from the coop. Maybe the nail that sticks out was supposed to be pounded into submission by the hammer of conformity and silo-building. Perhaps the hammer-wielders saw my efforts to establish working relationships with receptive cohorts in other departments as a threat to the nebulous status quo of the "us-versus-them." Whatever their reasons were, they succeeded in cutting me down to size--for awhile.

I had to address the issue of gaining acceptance and approval. I felt like I was back in high school all over again, wondering if I was one of the "cool kids" or one of the pimple-adorned, self-conscious denizen of the outcasts. After some time spent soul-searching, I've come to the realization that I'd rather put my energy into making a tangible difference than to seeking comfort fitting in with the hammer-wielders. I would sacrifice the comforts of living inside a warm cocoon and instead find ways to challenge myself to do awesome--even at the risk of alienating those who are ordained inside the "in-group" of the paper tiger (also known as the "organizational chart"). To my pleasant surprise, I was recently advised by several encouraging folks in high places that detractors were going to be everywhere no matter what I happen to be doing. In the words of one supportive guru, "the haters are gonna hate for whatever reason they may have, but don't let them get in your way." Perhaps those haters who make a career out of making vintage piss juices out of sour grapes are motivated by jealousy, hatred, or maybe didn't know any better, but I would rather spend my precious time and energy at work focusing on making awesome work and making a difference. I'll leave the involvement with murky and counterproductive office politics to others.

So how am I feeling these days? I have grown distant from some of the toxic peers, but at the same time, the suffocating cloud of paranoia and misguided expectations of what I should be doing on have dissipated, replaced with a contagious fixation on making awesome. it's amazing how much energy I have available now to focus on making results that matter, instead of spending energy thinking about how I would be perceived by those haters who are--and were--inconsequential all along. I feel very fortunate that, with a little help from my friends and superlative peers, I am more than able to get by. It's amazing how liberating it is to realize how powerful it feels to deny the haters by not validating their petty insinuations.

1 comment:

  1. I think you drew an important distinction by nothing that the reviewers were anonymous. When someone is anonymous, that removes all forms of accountability, so people can feel free to say anything. Sadly, they generally choose to say stupid shit without the accompanying facts or examples to back it up.

    But I think you did the right thing by shifting your focus to making awesome--something within your control. You'll never control the haters. One of my favorite phrases is "haters gonna hate". It's silly and simple, but sums it all up.

    Focus on what you can control and how you can bring joy, it's amazing the ripple effect that has on dynamics.