Each morning as I wake, a sense of peace rushes over me. It’s quiet. The day has yet to start, and I am in a state of stillness, gradually transitioning from a deep slumber.
When my feet hit the floor, I’m instantly connected with the earth. I feel grounded, yet conscious that I am now fully a part of this day, and I immediately feel the need to add value to it somehow. Before I let my mind get ahead of me, I take delight in the morning, watching the rising sun blanket the trees.
I step outside to get a taste of the cool, crisp morning air. As it fills my lungs, I begin to dream of what the day will look like and of what my efforts could produce. I think to myself: if only I try hard enough, if only I push for what I want and if only I receive the validation I’m longing for, then I can start to feel alive.
I think to myself: if only I try hard enough, if only I push for what I want and if only I receive the validation I’m longing for, then I can start to feel alive.
I picture myself on a beach, my toes pushing against grains of sand, the softness molding to my form. It feels relaxing, almost comforting. For a moment, I don’t have to hold myself up.
As I approach the ocean, I feel the weight of its vastness. I stop at the place where the water meets land, letting the seafoam tickle my toes, tempting me. My efforts resemble that of a surfer, constantly paddling harder and harder, waiting for that perfect wave, that seemingly perfect opportunity.
I can see it in the distance. I’m fully immersed in the water now. As I paddle harder, it gets closer, almost feasible. I begin to stand, a little unsure and shaky at first, and then, the wave is here—its crest high. I feel fully alive as I forcefully, yet gracefully ride it.
Almost as quickly as it began, the wave grows smaller, returning to the ocean, and my ride comes to a close. I make it through to the other side and back to the shore, coasting on a rush of adrenaline.
I did that. I hear the applause of a small crowd a few yards down the beach. The wave itself was validation, and now, it’s backed by people I don’t even know. My gaze shifts from the strangers back to the endless sea of possibilities. I want to ride that wave again, but I want it to be bigger. Now that I’ve had a taste of what I’m capable of, I want to see how far I can go.
The wave itself was validation, and now, it’s backed by people I don’t even know.
I’m still standing on my porch visualizing this play out for my day, week and year, and suddenly, I am filled with thoughts of failing. I think about losing the validation of others. If I just paddle hard enough and if I just keep returning to the ocean after each wave, then I could make myself known.
I see the ocean knocking me under if I don’t time the wave just right. I see it knocking me down, sending me spiraling to the depths of the sea, to a place of rejection.
But what if the waves never come? What if I keep paddling and searching, but the sea is quiet and still? Were my efforts a waste without a wave of validation, without a rush of what the world defines as success?
Were my efforts a waste without a wave of validation, without a rush of what the world defines as success?
Maybe I’m simply surviving in the absence of both. When I’m relying on the waves but not being pushed down or lifted up, my existence feels indifferent. So I keep paddling harder and harder, but eventually, I end up back at the shore, forced to start again.
I think back to the places where I’ve experienced peace and self-love—walking through the sand, feeling connected to the earth and returning back to the shore of who I am. When I express who I am for no one but myself, I feel the most alive. This means reverting back to the version of myself before I knew the ocean existed. Breathing in the sunshine, I feel confidence that just being on this earth and sharing my gift is enough in and of itself. The audience is irrelevant and the approval is unnecessary.
No amount of praise can truly validate who I am or what I’m doing on this planet. If I only chase after that, the expansive ocean of a successful life suddenly feels empty and stale. Validation is not found in the rare moments when I’m coasting on a wave controlled by the gravitational pull of a bigger source, like the sun, the moon or mass appeal. Instead, it is found in the stillness of early mornings and in the places where I am restful, grateful and truly myself.
Have you learned how to navigate the search for identity and the desire for the approval of others? When do you feel most at peace with yourself?
Image via Max Krutz, Darling Issue No. Issue 22