Pain or pleasure, joy or misery, agony or ecstasy, happens only inside you. Human folly is that people are always trying to extract joy from outside. You may use outside as stimulus or trigger, but the real thing always comes from within. — Sadghuru, Inner Engineering
As a culture, we constantly look outside of ourselves for answers. We read self help books, listen to podcasts, go to church, hire coaches, and attend seminars. We look for so many things outside of ourselves: validation, satisfaction, permission, love. We base our happiness on factors we can’t control and our lives get filled with unmet expectations.
We’ve built a billion dollar self help industry on one fundamental premise: Somebody else, a guru, a God, a mentor, a hero, or role model has the answers we’re searching for.
I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life asking questions, and searching for answers over the course of more than 700 interviews. The Unmistakable Creative has been my personal school of life, an opportunity to learn what we should have learned in school but never did. But the more I’ve looked outward for answers about love, happiness and fulfillment, the more it has led me inward.
We fail to see that what we seek outside us is already within us. We can give ourselves validation, satisfaction, permission and love. Paradoxically, when we give these things to ourselves, we are much more likely to get them from other people.
Around the world, people are waiting for permission. Artists, authors, musicians, and actors are waiting to be picked by the gallery owner, publisher, record label, and movie producer. But we live in a world where it’s possible to give yourself permission. There’s never been a greater time in history for people who are creative. We have almost free access to tools, resources, and distribution channels.
- Authors can publish their books on Amazon without permission from a publisher.
- Musicians can upload their tracks to iTunes without permission from a record label.
- Filmmakers can distribute their movies on Amazon Prime without permission from a studio.
The gates have fallen and the so-called gatekeepers aren’t sitting around waiting to reject your book, your album, or your startup. Their livelihood depends on saying yes.
- Editors need to find good books to publish.
- Record labels need great musicians.
- Venture capitalists need a great startup to invest in.
But if you aren’t willing to start until they give you permission, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Like almost everything else, if you give yourself permission, you paradoxically start to get it from other people. I gave myself permission to write a book and publish it. It was the most valuable thing I’ve done for my career. As a result, I received permission from a publisher.
A few years ago, I interview Graham Betchart, who is a mental toughness coach for NBA basketball players. When one of his clients landed a multimillion dollar contract with his team, he said, “Graham, that didn’t do shit for me.” Just think about that. Getting to the NBA in and of itself means overcoming incredible odds. But it didn’t provide the kind of lasting fulfillment this player thought it would. If you seek internal fulfillment from external sources, you’ll always go through life feeling like you have a hole in your heart.
We seek it from our parents, peers, mentors, teachers and strangers on the internet. But the last place we usually look for validation is within. Yet, as Steven Pressfield says “The professional self-validates.”
In Indian culture, most kids are raised with very high expectations from their parents and as a result, kids seek their validation. I spent years seeking validation from my parents, only to realize that even though they were proud, it would never be expressed according to my expectations.
In my recent interview with Ishita Gupta, which was what inspired this article, she said that she came to the same conclusion that I have. Everything that she was seeking from her parents and family she would have to give to herself.
This is easier said than done because we all have a deep need to be validated, but it’s only letting go of that when we become the most fully self expressed, no-bullshit versions of ourselves.
Love has nothing to do with someone else. It is all about you. It is a way of being. It essentially means you have brought sweetness into your emotion… Even if a loved one is not physically with you anymore, you are still capable of loving. So, what is love then? It is your own quality. You are only using the other person as a key to open up what is already within you. — Sadghuru
We don’t look for anything outside of ourselves as much as we do for love. We look for it from our parents, friends, and romantic partners. All of the things mentioned above are really a search for reassurance that we’re loved.
As someone whose primary love languages are physical touch and words of affirmation, I’ve always wanted love to be expressed in that way. I want to date women who can’t keep their hands off of me and whose words are like music to my ears. But I’ve also grown up in a culture where public displays of affection are uncommon and love isn’t expressed verbally.
We all want to be seen, heard and above all things loved. But we also have an expectation of what that looks like, how that love is expressed from parents, peers, friends, and romantic partners. With that expectation, we attempt to fill an internal void with external validation. But this kind of love leaks, it doesn’t fill us up. We have holes in our hearts because we don’t love ourselves. But if we choose to give love to ourselves, we can be kinder to ourselves when we screw up and gentler with ourselves when we fail.
When we expect love to be expressed in a certain way and it’s not, we overlook what love is. While the love in my family isn’t expressed according to my love languages, it’s something that can certainly be felt in the meals we eat, moments we share, and conversations we have. It was palpable for every moment of my sister’s wedding.
At the beginning of the year, Terri Cole sent out a wonderful newsletter about finding love, and she posed some really thought-provoking questions.
- Do you believe that you are worthy of your own time, your own love and your own money?
- Do you ever dress up for no reason? Just for you?
- Do you treat yourself with love, with care, and with respect?
- Do you treat yourself as well as you treat other people?
Notice how NONE of those questions are about how we get love from others, but how we give it to ourselves. All of last year, when my dating life felt like an uphill battle, my friend Mike would say, “I don’t think you enjoy your own company.” If you don’t enjoy your own company, how could you expect that anyone else will?
We can’t expect other people to fill our hearts or make us feel whole and complete. Whether that’s in the form of permission, validation, or love, when we expect to get those things from other people, and be expressed according to our specifications that not only puts unrealistic pressure on them. But, we enter situations in our lives from a place of scarcity, and deficiency.
When we assume our hearts can only be filled with love from outside of us, we’ll inevitably go through the world feeling deficient in some way and paradoxically unlovable. As Terri Cole once said to me on the Unmistakable Creative, “If you have a low opinion of yourself, you will inevitably attract people who agree with that low opinion.”
When I told my content strategist Kingshuk about this idea of giving yourself everything you’re searching for from external sources, he said “This is personal responsibility for your life at a whole other level.” It’s worth reconsidering how we define responsibility. In the book Inner Engineering, Sadguru defines responsibility as follows:
Responsibility does not mean taking on the burdens of the world. It does not mean accepting blame for things you have done or not done. It does not mean living in a state of personal guilt. Responsibility simply means your ability to respond.
Searching outside of yourself for everything that’s already within you allows you to avoid responsibility. Once you realize that everything you’re searching for outside of you is already within you, you have agency over your life in a way that you never had before.
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Originally published at unmistakablecreative.com on February 13, 2019.