10/01/2013 09:12 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Enemies of Success Part One: Approval Addiction


I believe it's very human to want to be successful. Oh, if success could only come in a magic pill, right? The hard truth is that, in order to translate our dreams into reality, we're wise to develop a healthy respect for the challenges and adversaries we'll face along the way. There are many enemies of success, and that's what this series is going to address.

Today's enemy is Approval Addiction.

Most of us long for admiration, a pat on the back, a nudge or a wink that tells us we've done something right. Approval feels good and we all crave it. Yet, if left unchecked, that normal yearning can transform into a drug that traps us with its empty promises and fleeting rush. We start pursuing the rush instead of our goals and can lose ourselves in the process.

My grandfather started his life on a small farm in Paris, Texas, reading books as he trudged behind a horse-drawn plow, his pale skin fried daily in the unrelenting sun. He was willing to give up everything to escape the black widows that bit his hands and arms as he picked the bolls of cotton every harvest.

At 16, he lied about his age, joined the Army, fought in WWII, used the G.I. Bill to get his college education and used that degree to eventually grow a tiny drilling company to rule the New York Stock Exchange. Even though the oil bust of the '80s decimated the business, my grandfather's story is still one of American greatness... and none of us could ever live up to it.

My father had a genius I.Q. and wanted to be a writer, but he wanted outside validation even more. Writing wasn't a real job. In trying to gain approval, my dad ended up failing at every occupation he tried because he wasn't being true to his gift. He died still writing poems and short stories in little notebooks, in between fixing bicycles for minimum wage. Tragically, he never earned the approval he so desperately wanted.

Before my father died, I'd fallen into the same people-pleasing trap. Yet when my father passed suddenly, it was a hard slap of reality.

Who was I living for?

Quick History of Kristen's Approval Addiction:

Was asked to do commercial, modeling at age 14.

"Are you kidding? A model? You really should focus on what you have: brains not looks."

With an almost 4.0 GPA, I won a full Air Force ROTC scholarship to become a surgeon, the most sought-after scholarship in the Department of Defense.

"You won? Wow, they must have been short on their quota for women."

No matter what I did, the very people I was killing myself to please were never happy, and did you notice the contradictions? When I wanted admiration for my looks, I only had smarts. When I sought approval for my smarts, I wasn't all that bright.

Did my friends and family sit up all night thinking of ways to emotionally wreck me? No. They were likely being helpful, trying to spare me from pain. Maybe they were even jealous. They probably had the same junk said to them at one point.

Who knows and who cares? The thing is they never were happy and likely never would be either.

People-pleasing kills our faith in ourselves. It distracts us, drains us and we are the only ones who will suffer. One of the major reasons we fail to reach for what we really want is we fear rejection, thus we substitute the happiness of others for our own. Polonius' advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any other man." What's really strange is that, once I learned my happiness was my own responsibility, I found the courage to follow my own course. Yes, I faced the very rejection I feared, but all that negativity burned away in the joy of pursuing my dream -- becoming a professional author. My father gave me a love for books and writing, and I took up the torch he was too afraid to carry.

Oddly enough, the very people who made fun of my dream are now some of my biggest supporters. Yet even if they'd never come around, never offered the praise I'd once pined for, I'd still be happy.

No one can define success for us. Success is as unique as our fingerprints. To one person, it might mean being a great mom or dad. To another? Running a company. We must craft our own dreams and be ever-vigilant to remain grounded. We can want praise, but we shouldn't need it. Approval addiction robs our authentic success and more often leads to anemic, miserable, "Dreams by Committee."

Do you struggle with approval addiction? Have you had a hard time going against friends, family or even your spouse? What is your biggest challenge? Have you overcome approval addiction? How did you do it? Tell us about it. What tips might you recommend?

I love hearing from you! Feel free to come hang out on on my author blog, too!

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.