Do you ever find yourself not doing something because you are worried about what other people will think?
I’ve always had this need for approval, even before I knew what to call it. I’d consider what other people would think before I did anything. I’d have trouble saying no because I wouldn’t want to disappoint someone. I’d worry about what other people thought about me.
As I’ve learned to let go of this need for approval, I’ve become aware of how it had been affecting my life. It impacted the big things – like who I dated and what risks I’d be willing to take. But this need for approval also showed up almost every day in the little ways, like not speaking up at a meeting, not sending food back that wasn’t really what I wanted, or feeling overcommitted because I wasn’t able to say no to something.
I was coming home from a lovely weekend away. I had a super early morning flight at 5am, which meant setting an alarm for 4:15am. Wanting to make the most of my time away, I hadn’t exactly been to bed early the night before.
As I’m going through security before my flight, I hear the security agent asking the passenger behind me, “Are you on the Air Canada flight?”
“Yup,” the passenger says happily.
“It’s been delayed. It’s not leaving until 9:30am. You’ll have to wait and go through security later.”
Seriously? That was my flight. It was 5am. I check my phone and the airline had just sent me an email notifying me of my delayed flight and the flight change for my connection. All I could think was, “I could have been sleeping.”
After confirming with the security guard that it was indeed my flight, I walked back through security feeling dejected. My luggage beeped as I passed back through the scanner and I found my way to a hard wooden bench. What now? All I wanted was to get on my flight and get off of it in Vancouver – which meant Starbucks. I guess it wasn’t that bad – except that all I could think about were those soft white sheets on that bed that I’d been sleeping in. The mattress sort of sunk down around you as you felt the warmth of being wrapped up in that soft white duvet.
I contemplated opening a business that rented beds by the hours (no, not for that). How much would I pay for a bed right now? $25? $50? $100?
Instead, I found the next best thing, a small fake-leather couch.
Except there was one problem. This couch wasn’t in an area of the airport that was meant for sleeping. It was in the restaurant side, with signs all over the place saying “for paying restaurant customers only.” If they didn’t want you to sit there without buying something they probably did want you to sprawl out on a couch to take a nap.
I ordered some food and I made my move, bringing my purse, coat and large bag over to the couch.
I looked around. No one else was sleeping. No one else was really even lying there. Every other person was sitting upright either eating breakfast or working on their laptops. Who were these people that had their laptops out at 5am? Should I be working too? Should I be awake and chipper instead of exhausted and angry?
What are they going to think of me if I just lay down on this couch and fall asleep? Is one of the staff going to come over and gently, and then more loudly, declare that there is NO sleeping allowed here? Why aren’t these people napping? Do they know something I don’t?
I laid down, half upright, half committed, my mind worrying about being judged. I pretended to be watching tv. That’s surely allowed right? I mean, it sort of looks like you are sleeping when you are watching tv. If someone comes by I can just tell them I blinked really long.
As I laid on that couch, I slowly suck down more and more. After awhile I noticed I was a bit too cold, so I went in even further and took my coat out of my bag for a blanket. I took off my glasses, and clearly made myself at home. No one said anything.
What had I been so worried about? No one judged me. No one gave me awful looks. The restaurant staff didn’t come over and tell me to move. In fact, as I looked around, I noticed the opposite happened.
The IT guy who had been steadily working two couches over put away his laptop and laid down too, his feet up on the couch. A middle-aged couple sat down in two comfy chairs across from me. After about an hour of seeing me nap off and on the woman wrapped a blanket-like scarf around herself and went to sleep too.
I realized the only thing that had been keeping me from napping was wondering what other people would think of me. Did I want to spend my entire day over tired and in a bad mood just because I was so worried about what someone else might think that I didn’t want to lay down on a couch and nap?
Was someone else’s opinion about me more important than meeting my own needs?
I napped on and off for a few hours, waking up refreshed and peaceful. By giving myself what I needed, I gave others permission to give themselves what they needed. I developed a better relationship with myself. I learned how to care more about what I needed than about what someone else thought.
This week, do something that goes against your need for approval. Maybe it’s napping in an unusual place, speaking up in a meeting, or saying no.
You’ll be happier and you’ll find that other people around you are happier too.