You already have my approval.
I hope I’ll have yours.
I’m dedicating this letter to you and not your brother, because, by the time you read this, I’m pretty sure the world won’t have changed much. I’m pretty sure there will still be a million more ways for a woman to gain or lose approval than a man. If your brother identifies as a girl, then we’ll all have lots to talk about and some clothes to share, but for now I think I have more to offer you by way of advice.
An improv expert once told me there are two different kinds of improvisers: floaters and scrappers. People always seem to envy the floaters, their unsavory name notwithstanding. Floaters don’t worry about whether they’ll be funny; they don’t plan how a scene is going to go. They completely trust themselves, or maybe they’re a little lazy. Floaters float. I don’t love floating, because I can’t see what’s under me. I’ve always been a scrapper. Planning (albeit futile in improv), practicing, trying, and trying again. In improv and in life, though, it’s served me well. Still, I’m starting to float more, resting on the tide of my experience. I hope you will be both a scrapper and a floater. Maybe a scroater. No, that sounds gross. Be a flapper.
Seeking approval has not undone me. It’s done me; it’s dinged me; it’s built me. I want the same for you. At this point in your life, I clap for you when you do something like eat corn. I anticipate the days when I applaud you for things like devouring books or gobbling up attention for—I don’t know; you choose—poetry slamming or parkour or chocolate robotics competitions. (As of this writing, “chocolate robotics competitions” are something I just made up, but I hope they will exist by the time you’re in high school, and you’ll be the national champ and allow me to eat your failed inventions.)
So. A shortlist from your mother who doesn’t always know best but has learned a lot …
- Coco Chanel: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Your mother: “Before you leave the apartment, look in the mirror and remove your Breathe Right Nasal Strip.”
- There are many second chances to make a first impression, because people forget. They forget you! This is good news! Or they just don’t remember how bad you might have bit it!
- Dry shampoo makes life 33 percent easier.
- Don’t sleep with people just to prove you can. That’s not exactly sticking it to the Man.
- Focus on being beautiful if you want to get something from people. Focus on being smart and/or funny if you want to give something to people.
- It’s okay to get angry at people who deserve it.
- Don’t hold on to the treadmill. This is both an earnest workout tip and a life lesson. Who are these people who get on the treadmill and then clutch it while they walk uphill, half-assed? Let go and trust yourself that you can go harder. If the incline feels too steep, then slow yourself down, even as you march uphill. You can’t speed past the arduous slogs in life. You need to summon all your energy if you want results. (The other thing about hanging on to the treadmill is that it’s very germy.)
- Don’t change yourself for someone else. Change yourself for you, as often as needed … it’s how you discover who you are.
- Ignore people who talk about “safety schools” and “back-up plans.” Be safe in traffic and sex but not in life goals.
- There is no downside to:
- Making good grades
- Doing the extra credit
- Not doing drugs
- Asking questions, except “Does this make me look fat?” and “Do you love me?”
- Taking the stairs
- Learning people’s names
- Writing thank-you notes
- There’s probably a downside to consuming artificial sweetener, but this is a do as I say and not as I do bullet point
- Marry a mensch who’s generous enough to think he’s lucky.
- Don’t miss out on the kind of heartbreaks and disappointments that propel you. (I know I’m supposed to want you to have a better life than I have, even though I pretty much love my life, despite the fact that you may have noticed we don’t have a washer/dryer in our home. I pray you have your own washer/dryer as you approach middle age.) Anyway, my point is, the things you think you’ve lost, like jobs and loves and babies, either come back around or leave a fertile wake.
I hope that you’ll care just enough about the approval of others that you will always try your hardest, even if it’s to flout or flummox your detractors. Or, better yet, to win laughter from your supporters.
I hope you’ll care a lot about winning your own approval-enough to stretch, appreciate, and occasionally embarrass yourself.
And this may be my most impossible wish: I hope you’ll love yourself as much as I love you.
Excerpted from APPROVAL JUNKIE: ADVENTURES IN CARING TOO MUCH Copyright © 2016 by Faith Salie. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC