As I stared at the bland tannish manila-colored walls of my 168-square foot Harrison 314 room, thoughts of uncertainty filled my mind. “Do I belong here?,” I wondered, as tears of frustration rolled from my dark brown irises.
I struggled to make sense of this strange feeling of unease that was plaguing my mind. This was not the same uncertainty you might feel when deciding whether to choose choice “A” or “B” on your midterm.
This sense of uncertainty was exacerbated by the constant epidemic of seeking approval, also known as “validation.”
I came into this institution as an LMC major with big dreams of one day becoming a documentary filmmaker and a world-renowned news reporter.
This was something I proudly told my peers and others during my first weeks at the Institute. When I told my classmates and even faculty about my career goals, they looked at me with pity.
“Journalism at a tech school? Why would you do that?,’’ or “there’s no money in journalism” are some things I was often greeted with from people.
And I have to admit, at first these words of useless criticism didn’t really affect me, but eventually it started to alter my perception of how I viewed my career.
In the weeks and months leading up to being a freshman at Tech, I was often preached to by my peers, teachers and even family that coming into Tech, you need to have a plan, because everyone leaves there making nothing less than six figures with a big corporate job. And they weren’t wrong, this was the norm here at Tech. It seemed like from day one, everyone had their eyes set on working for a big company or securing that big-time job offer.
It felt like a culture of survival of the fittest, and professors and students fed into the culture.
A culture that was driven by validation and extrinsic approval. I don’t say this to shame the Institute in any way, because I, too, became a victim of this ever-present “validation culture.”
Within a month, I went from an aspiring journalist majoring in LMC to a MGT student hoping to work in a big corporate job in something tech and finance related. I wanted to be a “finance pro” or a “big time consulting guy,” as my classmates like to put it best.
I didn’t care about who I was going to affect to get there. To tell the truth, I didn’t even care about my own fulfillment. I just wanted the validation and acceptance in a community of more than 26,500 others. Just like them, I had become a victim.
I say I became a victim because I unwittingly began to measure the validity of my classmates, faculty and teachers in the same way that most of them measured my validity, by looking at the number of connections they had on LinkedIn, the number of Fortune 100 internships or job offers they had and how much financial
success they had.
I was gradually being led astray. During my first two years of college, I began to strive for and seek validation from my peers and school community, not because I never felt validation or love while growing up.
I sought validation because it was “the norm.”
I remember receiving my first Fortune 500 internship during my second year at Tech, and I rushed to LinkedIn after signing the offer letter to tell everyone about it. I recall being praised and congratulated by my classmates, faculty and friends.
You’d think my heart was bursting with joy at the time, but the smile on my face concealed my true feelings.
“This is exactly what you have been asking for,” my mother said. However, deep within, I felt as empty as ever.
The truth is that I did not want the internship because I enjoyed consulting, nor did I pursue a degree in information systems for the sake of technology. In fact, I had no desire to work in tech, consulting or the traditional corporate sector.
More than anything else, I became displeased with myself. I sought these honors and accomplishments for the wrong reasons.
I pursued a degree in information technology as well as high-profile internships and job offers because I desired acceptance and validation. I was tired of being questioned about being different or following my own dreams, not the dreams of others.
I was tired of feeling the need to be included in conversations about business or tech, so for the first time I felt “ valid,” or at least that’s what I thought.
Merriam-Webster defines validity as “the state of being acceptable according to law.”
And the harsh reality is that when we walk onto Tech’s campus for the first time as a new student, we are often given norms of what is acceptable based on an unwritten set of guiding principles.
Faculty and advisors push for us to seek the typical nine to five out of college more than they push us to follow our dreams of being an entrepreneur, a
musician or an artist.
Because that just isn’t “dependable,” I guess?
When we tell someone here that we want to do something that is out of the ordinary, out of the traditional “Tech” path, we are frequently questioned, chastised or frowned upon.
But if that’s what makes us happy, why should we try to fit in at the expense of our own sanity and happiness?
Today, I write this from the perspective of a flawed, but valid, college student.
I speak as someone who has personal experience of what it is like to base your success and life path on the approval of others, and I understand the mental toll that can result from this.
I was once uncertain. I was bitter. I was struggling to find my place on this campus. I became so consumed with being acknowledged and accepted by my faculty and not becoming another statistic that I became just that — another statistic. I had simply lost sight of my own self.
This quest for validation and acceptance was not unique to only my time at Tech. It’s something I’ve seen affect both faculty and classmates alike. I’ve seen friends abandon their true dreams in areas such as dance, film, literature and music simply because they were too focused on following the socially accepted path and pleasing the likeness of others.
They became so focused on making the “big bucks” out of school that they lost sight of their original aspirations.
They became so preoccupied with not letting their parents down that they began to let themselves down.
Now, I’m not your spokesperson or the person to tell you how to live your life; “you do what you want,” as a friend of mine used to say, but I do know one thing.
Like Rick James said, “cocaine is a hell of a drug,” and so is validation and outside acceptance. If you let it, seeking validation can lead to your own demise.
It can leave you feeling insecure and unsure of yourself during the most significant periods of your life.
Although college can be a validation and “try hard” fest, and sometimes an unhealthy competitive environment at times, I challenge you to be true to yourself, which is not easy.
But, I’m convinced that those who have stayed true to themselves and sought their own intrinsic validation and acceptance have had more happiness than those who have not.
To whoever it may concern, in a world full of people looking for approval, seek your own peace. You’ll thank yourself later. Take my word for it.