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The Approval Factor

At the 1984 Academy Awards, Sally Fields took to the podium to receive an Oscar for Places in the Heart. Addressing the audience, she blushed, grinned, and said, “You like me. You really like me,” with all of the charm, enthusiasm and sincerity she could muster. Fields has enjoyed a long, successful career. (Anybody remember The Flying Nun?) But it seems that this simple quote is most often associated with her; it is a powerful part of her professional legacy. Why? Because while most of us can’t identify with being an award-winning actress, with an amazing body of work, we can fully understand the universal need to belong, to be admired and loved. It is the emotional currency of our world.

Approval. It is a seldom-acknowledged little secret, an ever-present need that all of us who call ourselves human share. (OK. I think my dog understands it, too, but I digress…) And we protest too much about its validity, loudly proclaiming that we don’t care what people think, often in very colorful language. (There’s even an acronym for it: DGAF.) And yes, there is truth to not depending totally on others for your daily dose of feel-good, but in reality, we do care a great deal about peoples’ opinions. Perhaps more than we readily care to admit.

We want the support of people we allow into our world, because, like it or not, their validation somehow improves our self-worth and enhances our view of ourselves. Praise and affirming words motivate us. Intrinsic incentives aside, we work harder, develop our talents, push our creative limits, strive for excellence when we are encouraged by others. Don’t believe me? Try potty training a toddler (or puppy) without it. A complimentary boss will not only create a fiercely loyal staff, but also a productive one. And that concept applies from the boardroom to the classroom to the family dinner table. The inner dialogue goes something like this: “If you allow me to feel good about myself, recognize my excellence, I will do my darndest to live up to your expectations. Heck, I might even exceed them.”

The response to promotion and confirmation is physical as well. Science has proved that people who feel cared for and appreciated, those who have strong emotional and social ties live longer, happier lives, with fewer health issues than their isolated, dejected counterparts. So yeah, it’s that important. What good is that kale salad you reluctantly eat for lunch if you are surrounded by people who put you down or ignore your gifts or fail to whisper a kind word? Even experiments done on plants have shown that they grow abundantly, producing greater leafy green if you speak nicely to them as you water and prune. Think of approval as emotional Miracle-Grow.

I am a writer, albeit a relatively new one. I tentatively took my first step into a make believe world of my own creation because I had a story to tell. Releasing it to the world was scary. Terrifying. But every word of praise and encouragement means something to me. While reader opinion is subjective, every positive book review is precious and appreciated. (Well, there was the one disappointing review from someone, who admittedly only read 60% of the book before blasting it, but I am trying to discount that while developing a thicker skin. Focus on the good, I remind myself.) The power of approval is undeniable for me since it is hard for me to separate who I am from what I write. It is the incentive I need to stay the course, through writer's block, painful edits, and long hours. And I can’t help but echo the words of Sally Fields when I encounter such kindness and reassurance, with one small change: “Thanks so much for liking me, for really liking me.”

I am hard at work on the sequel. I hope it won’t disappoint.

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