There's a quote from Confucius that says, "What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others."
What I've realized over the past couple months is I'm the small man. My low self-esteem was always making me look for validation from others. I needed it instantly to feel better about myself, and it never completely brought me what I needed to feel better about myself.
Let me take you back to childhood for a minute. Looking back I feel like it was pretty typical. I had many friends, played sports, had an incredible opportunity to travel around the world, and had an awesome family life.
In elementary school leading up to 7th grade, I was essentially fearless and completely secure with myself. In retrospect, I'm actually surprised how confident and secure I felt considering the constant bullying I'd receive from a few of my peers.
You see, I was different than most guys. Most of my friends were girls, and that influenced a lot of what I liked in terms of pop culture. Yes, I'd shamelessly listen to Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, N*Sync, and most other pop bands, and as you might guess, the name calling ensued.
When I started the 8th grade, I was starting a completely new school. I had just moved back to the U.S. after living in Saudi Arabia for nearly six years, so it was a fresh start for me. Unfortunately, this is where it all started going downhill for my confidence and self-esteem.
When you're new to a place, and you need to make new friends, you tend to gravitate towards your first few initial contacts and make friends with them first. The terrible thing about this was since everyone was so new to me, I didn't quite know off the bat who would be good influences on my life.
Unfortunately, the few people I started hanging out with at first started influencing my perceptions of things by planting irrational notions in my mind. One of these was making me aware of the "cliques" that existed within the world of high school. This concept was new for me because in Saudi we never really had cliques people would fall into. There was a sense of commonality since we were all individuals from different places around the world living in Saudi Arabia.
This new idea of a social hierarchy really fucked with my head and influenced the decisions I would make for years to come. Dare I ever step into Abercrombie and Fitch to get a button down I liked. Just someone seeing the logo alone on the bus or at school would be enough to get a, "Why the hell are you wearing that? Are you a prep now? You look so gay!" It would have just been nice to wear what I wanted to wear without getting shit for it.
In Saudi, I was very athletic and very competitive. I played baseball for years and was damn good at it. Playing basketball I could drain 3's like it was my job. But things changed when I started a new school and began losing my confidence. At tryouts, I now felt timid, which didn't equate to doing exceptionally well, so I never made a team.
From those years on out, I started compartmentalizing people into groups. Just looking at someone I would start classifying them by what clothes they were wearing, or what car they were driving. I began comparing myself to others and began to feel inadequate.
Flash forward to my photography business years, and the high school perception of groups and cliques came rushing back. All I wanted to do was fit in. I'd see groups of "rock star" photographers hanging out and just want to fit in with them. The desire for validation from certain individuals influenced most everything in my business. Most decisions were made with the forethought of, "What would they think of this?"
I began making decisions, not for myself, but for the gain of validation from others whose respect I wanted. I would also hold myself back from doing things out of the fear of losing respect. Living a life like this made me lost and depressed. It felt like others had a grip on my life.
Obviously, this is stupid, and no one actually had a grip on my life. I let the seeking of others acceptable control me, and in return, I lost a huge part of myself. My voice, my creativity, my happiness, were all stolen by....ME. Every decision I make or don't make is on me.
I've realized the only way to move forward is to simply, stop giving a shit. I'm slowly branching out and doing things I've once held myself back from doing. Each step forward I take towards doing things that make me happy is another step away from the perceptions and notions I once had that dragged me down. It's not a comfortable process at all, and it's really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.
I've been starting to find validation within myself. I no longer seek the opinions of others to make me feel good about myself. For once I'm finally creating a life for me without a care in the world.
So here's some advice if you feel like you're in a similar boat. Really do some reflecting. Do you feel like the decisions you're making in your life are for validation from others? If you're new to the photography industry, are you "fangirling" over certain people, and comparing yourself to them immediately? Don't focus on what others are doing. Focus on what you're doing, and who you want to be. Understand that everyone will have an opinion about you regardless of what you do. Be yourself, and go forward in life fearless. Stop seeking validation from others, and just live your damn life. Stop following, and start leading yourself to a point where you act confidently. Be the superior person who seeks it within themselves.