The best gift we can offer anyone is compassionate self-sufficiency
Updated: Jul 25
A flower doesn't grow because it's told to be beautiful - it grows and its beauty (or its value eg. as a pollinator, or its aesthetic, or even as a drug) is recognised. Many people only come to me as a coach in a time of need, but I nonetheless continue to put the practical skills of my trade to help you build resilience, build confidence, build self-belief out there. I don't need you to notice me to keep doing my job well, I simply focus on developing three key areas of my life: My competencies (skills), My character (broader knowledge) and My Integrity (moral compass and ethics). That way, when I'm called, I know I'm capable (The "Peter Principle" - promotion to the level of my incompetence - doesn't apply) and when things get tough I'm confident in my values and behaviours (the "Saul Syndrome" - envy with competition, cracks in the moral code to cling onto power - also takes a hike).
However, although I look to others for practical advice, or information - the only person that can really do all those things is me...and when I work with you as a coach - I give you the tools, but you need to pick them up.
A healthy sense of self
The development of a healthy self-awareness and a sense of self occurs through childhood. Children learn, through their experiences within their environment to trust, develop autonomy, take initiative, become industrious, form their identity, engage in intimacy, generate productively and live with integrity. Unfortunately, if the child does not establish that firm sense of who they are, their behaviours may become those of mistrust, doubt and avoidance of shame, guilt and fear, inferiority, role confusion, isolation, stagnation and despair (Erickson, 1958, 1963).
Too weak a sense of self can result in the belief that everyone knows better than you and instead of engaging with your own potential you become an unquestioning drone (likely becoming more and more unhappy with your life); too much and people may find what they perceive as arrogance, distasteful. Even when surrounded with others who may have a well-developed sense of self, askewed (ie. self-serving or self-destructive) behaviour can affect the group.
Constantly developing your competence, character and integrity enables you to strike a balance - even if you were never taught as a child. It will enable you to be self-ish; that is - self-focused or self-aware enough to contribute with purpose and fulfilment (to the best of your ability), because of the knowledge that you belong to a wider community.
Without being self-ish, unpleasant and unproductive behaviours (eg. Self-sabotage, self-centredness, self-servance or self-destruction) may occur. That is also when those around you may suffer collaterally. Yet, show yourself compassion, devote time to identify and nurture what is important to your personal effectiveness, and you will be stronger - in turn enabling you to be strong for others. My whole body of work seeks to offer you the tools to do this, and one-to-one, I can tailor that more specifically to your goals.
The futile quest for validation from others
Unfortunately, if we have not learned a healthy sense of self, we compensate and the strategies we use to boost our self-esteem are sometimes toxic in the long term. Telling ourselves we are "...fine on our own" can result in pushing people away; seeking love from "...anyone and everyone" can lead to being taken advantage of. Most of us, through trial and error have found some sort of balance between the extremes, but hoping for others to validate you is one of the most common, yet subtle, issues I come across.
Three tips to Self Sufficiency
The first thing I need to remind you here is that when you seek validation from others you are beholden to their perception of value. While, if you are lucky, as I have been, to meet people whose values I connect with and as such have flourished through their faith in me - I have also fallen prey to trusting those who have turned out to be harmful and I have had to put in the extra effort of rebuilding myself again later, without walling up. If instead you are confident in your values, and seek to live them, then it is likely that those who connect with your approach to life will find their way to you.
Tip 1. Spend a moment identifying the top 3 of your values. (Write them down so you can see them. Then work from this moment to live them in everything you do)
While your values, and priorities, may change throughout life, having them clear in your mind will help you untangle those to seek out, collaborate with, listen to - and value right back at each stage of your growth. They will also underpin your integrity.
Tip 2. Keep learning - and when you learn have a vision of what skills you may need in the future.
Remember that the world keeps changing - therefore you must remain competent in the current state of the world rather than in a past version. You need to update as much as your technology does!
Note here that "learning" may also mean recalibrating some of the things you have done previously which may be less effective at the higher levels of responsibility. For example, if you have always taken on responsibility which could be done at one point because you had the capacity to do it - you may either need to find a way of orgnanising that work so that it is managable,or seek to develop mentoring and managerial skills to delegate it while ensuring your standards remain...or both. As a sidebar, it's also worth recognising that "taking on responsibility" - especially at leadership level - is not the same as producing results. While you may have once been praised for how much you can handle, when you are in charge, competence is often about how much you can deliver (or even innovate) - effectively.
Tip 3. Life doesn't always come with certificates, decide what YOU need to see to know you have achieved.
It's not about getting "likes" from other people. Ask yourself "what solid evidence would demonstrate - for you - accomplishment for today?" For me this is that I have included 40 minutes of exercise (you do not know how much I dislike sweating - but a workout makes me feel good); that I have done one thing related to brand promotion (article writing, podcast recording, social media brand post); and that I have been in touch with at least one person I care about. You'll notice that these are not necessarily "work related" - but for me my work ticks on with a constantly updating to-do list, that is not something I need to motivate myself to do. BUT what my accomplishments do achieve is improvement of the quality of the work I do produce. ...and I do this for me. Sometimes I may post it on social media (my brand work such as this article, I would as a matter of course), sometimes I may tell a loved one if I am especially pleased with myself, but always I am doing it for me - so I can be better for you.
You don't need a friend, much less a coach, who depends on you for living their life - a recomendation, praise, and especially gratitude is of course lovely and always appreciated, but validation of my actions? Save your energy for yourself! You choose me because of the way I live my life not so you can tell me how to do it!
All these three tips will have priorities and viewpoints that will change over time, so know them, but revisit them and change them as you change. But get into that driving seat because any journey is all the more rewarding when you are in charge of the direction.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt