Approval weaves through every relationship. From getting grades in school to pleasing a spouse to being successful in the workplace, the favorable opinion of others seems an essential element to making it through life.
Once I worked in a high- pressure job with two strong, brilliant bosses, one male and one female. I earnestly wanted to gain their respect, but I found myself caught between them. One would want one thing, the other would want something in the opposite direction, and I would flail around trying to please them both.
It hurt me that no matter what I did, I thought that one or the other of them would be angry with me. This imbalance made my days stressful, and I often thought my job was in jeopardy.
Finally, in a meeting with the female boss, I broke down. She was very patient with me, and after listening, she said, "You know, it's not about pleasing him or me. It's about pleasing God." (We shared a foundational faith in spirituality.)
Her comment shocked me. Not about pleasing people? How else does a person keep his or her job? But she was right. Merely doing what the bosses wanted wouldn't always be enough. I had a unique contribution to make, and I could make it only by being myself. The way to succeed at this job was to discover what God wanted me to do with my position and to do that.
But first I had to get over the crippling need for approval.
That evening something strange happened. I went home, and for some reason, took out my journals from middle school. As I leafed through, I found an entry that said, "Mom and Dad never let me do anything! They don't give me any say!" These frustrated preteen rantings sounded familiar.
It finally crystallized that I'd been carrying this mindset around for years. I'd been trying to assert my autonomy over authority figures throughout my life, and had never been successful. Now, this view was holding me back.
At that point, I had a choice. I could believe this was a part of me that I couldn't escape, or I could choose instead to see myself as free. I'm grateful to say that as a student of Christian Science, I already had the tools at hand to choose the latter option.
One of the things I love about Christian Science is its teaching that we are each the reflection of the Divine, and therefore the freedom we can experience is unlimited. A passage in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the textbook of Christian Science by Mary Baker Eddy, explains: "The spiritual man's consciousness and individuality are reflections of God. They are the emanations of Him who is Life, Truth, and Love. Immortal man is not and never was material, but always spiritual and eternal" (p. 336).
At the moment of seeing this long- standing limited mind-set, these familiar spiritual concepts made it instantly clear to me that having a problem with authority figures had always been an imposition. It had never been my role just to do what others wanted. My real job had always been to express my own individuality as God's creation. If I did that, God would approve of me.
This was enormously empowering! I went back to work the next day a changed woman. As I sat in meetings or got directives, I listened through the filter of what did God want me to do or say in response to what was being said. Only I could fulfill the role God had for me.
I began to participate with more creative ideas and to add value to the discussions. I began to find inspiration that resolved any conflicts in instruction. I learned how to communicate more honestly and with less fear. My bosses, co- workers, and I became the tightest team ever, and I eventually grew into a management position myself.
Being hurt by a lack of approval can be left behind. It is always an imposition, and, no matter how extreme, it's not a permanent part of our being. We can find the real source of infinite approval - God.