What is approval? Why is it such an important component in our culture? What are the underlying reasons for the perpetuation of ‘high achievement equals approval’ as a mindset? And what are the potential impacts of such a mindset?
These questions have been on my mind a lot recently and have been brought clear to the surface as I read about Olympic swimmer, Emily Seebohm literally grieving over not gaining a gold medal in her race. I’m not a swimmer, in fact, I resemble more of a drenched dragonfly forcing my body through the water with my feet dangling somewhere between mid depth and the pool floor! But I find it incredulous to see a young woman who has faced multiple sicknesses over the past 18 months, has pushed her physical capacity to the limits to make the Olympic team, to race and to achieve an outstanding result of silver medal then break into tears and floods of emotional turmoil because silver was not good enough.
What grieves me most is the clear mindset that I am hearing, not just in this sweet young lady’s voice, but in the voice of a generation who are fast becoming disillusioned with the outcomes of their achievements.
But why the disillusionment? What is causing this generation to feel that all their efforts produce is a bottomless void that craves more and more obsessive attention to achieve more and more… and then when achievement is fulfilled, to find that the cycle continues?
When I hear young people, and alas, I am no longer classed as a ‘young’ person, but as a middle aged person (eek!), state how disappointed they are in themselves, my heart rips open and I am left bereft of joy. Why?
Because if there was one thing I could share with my adolescent self, it would be to say that I should never allow my achievements to become the measure I use to consider myself worthy of approval. That instead, it is the view that I create of myself that matters and that this view must come from a place of knowing who I am, rather than assessing my self worth by the level of my achievements. That by knowing who I am, I come to a place of understanding the measure of time, and that in time, I will accomplish more as a person who is content in the moment of achievement rather than reaching for goals that are unrealistic or unattainable in the short term, bringing only frustration and inner disapproval.
I know that it’s a tricky topic to bring up in light of the incredible pressure and stress Olympians are currently under but I truly believe that if we are to establish good healthy foundations for the up and coming generations, we need to look at how we value things such as approval, worth, and achievement. I also believe it is our (that is us who have lived through at least a few generations!) responsibility and joy to pass on what we understand, to undergird these younger ones and to support them in their pursuits, regardless of outcomes. I believe that healthy approval can realistically become the bedrock for the generations to come and that in fact, the level of achievement overall will ultimately rise as we participate in shifting our culture and bringing reform to what is clearly not a healthy mindset.
Feel free to check out the article below, one among many, that relays Emily’s situation. And perhaps consider joining me in praying for these incredible athletes as they face not only titles, times, physical duress and medal placement, but possibly also inner questioning, self castigation, unfulfilled hopes and anxieties about identity and self worth. Let us be a part of building them up and supporting them.
Thanks for reading!