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Arjuna Ardagh Headshot

Approval Is Highly Overrated

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When I work with coaching clients one-on-one, we focus on several pivotal shifts in consciousness. One is to bring the attention from the endlessly-changing stream of thoughts and fleeting feelings to becoming aware of awareness itself. Once you awaken to your true nature in this way, it is the foundation upon which everything else becomes possible.

Another is to recognize and liberate blocks in consciousness -- the things that we resist. In an ironic way, the things that we most push away become the things that dominate our lives.

But the thing that becomes the most important focus for almost every client is the recognition and empowerment of their unique gift. This doesn't necessarily mean what they "do" in the world, what their job is, but that unique flavor which flows through this person more than anybody else. It's surprising how rarely people really tap into and bring forth the gift they were born to give. When it happens, it becomes a Steve Jobs, or an Isabel Allende, or a Leonard Cohen. The biggest reason I have found why people don't dare to bring forth their unique gift, to sing their song loudly to the world, is our addiction to approval. Or to put it another way, our deadly fear of disapproval.

I thought I knew all about disapproval. I went to a British boy's boarding school in the 1970s. The only equivalent we really have to this kind of environment in the United States is a federal prison. Put a bunch of testosterone-driven young men together, and they don't always bring out the best in each other. Bullying, back stabbing, character assassination -- these are just the things that happen before breakfast. You learn not to stick your neck out too far in any direction, unless you want to risk it being locked in the stocks, as the focus of rotten fruit and taunts.

I got my full-on initiation in moving beyond fear of disapproval, however, earlier this year. When Dr. Gay Hendricks and I put together our little movie called "Dear Woman," we expected it to go the way of most YouTube videos. A few hundred hits perhaps, or if it's really extraordinary, a few thousand. As you probably know by now, we made the movie with almost no money, we just gathered together a few friends here and there. Even those who appreciate the movie have to admit that it's kind of cheesy, even if it's a gesture appreciated by some.

I had no way to anticipate the barrage of hatred that movie would unleash. We received thousands and thousands of hateful email from men who felt violently disgusted by the tone of the film. Every insulting epithet you've ever heard of was hurled at us through the YouTube comments. "F**g**t," "mangina," "beta male"... it went on and on and on. For a while, one of our team was checking the comments and approving them (many were just way too vile to be printable), but after a few weeks he started to suffer from suicidal tendencies, so we had to take him off the job. So every now and then I have to go and do it myself, rather like cleaning up the vomit off the rug when our cat has a bad stomach. Going through hundreds and hundreds of personal attacks can't be anyone's idea of fun, but it's brought me to a great and valuable insight that I want to share with you today:

Being hated by large numbers of people is not nearly as bad as you might think.

So many of us walk around on tiptoes trying to do and say the right thing and gain everyone's approval, but when you end up making a viral video that wakes up the collective hatred of hundreds of thousands of men, well, you learn to get over it. As the months have gone by, I find myself less and less affected by reading the comments when I have to. Something like walking near a beautiful lake where there's a lot of mosquitoes; you brush them aside and enjoy the view.

I am making another film now, probably even more controversial than the one that we already put out. I even find myself looking forward to stirring up more disapproval.

So I would love to hear from you. What are the things that you hold back from doing, saying or creating, for fear of being disapproved of? If you too could have the opportunity to have thousands of angry men insulting you week after week on YouTube, until it became like a background hum, what outrageous, bigger than life, crazy message would you unleash on the world, no longer caring if they like it or not?

I am excited to hear what wild and unique gift sits inside of you, held back only by our shared addiction to approval.

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