Finding Freedom And The Removal Of Approval

One Day Soon, We Must Let Go
image: dancoachcreative

How much of what you do in your creative work is what you really want to do?

Developing the ideas and enjoying the practices that make you feel most excited, most stimulated, most alive?

How much of your work is clouded in some way by what someone else says or thinks you should be creating?

Or, worse still, how much is influenced by what you think something else thinks you should be creating?

Ideally, we need to move towards having for more of the former – the work that sets our passions alight – and less, and eventually none, of the latter – the work we’re doing to in some way gain approval from someone else.

There’s a three stage approach we can take that will help with this progression.

Stage 1. Stop seeking approval from those who don’t matter.

Your art tutor from 20 years ago who you haven’t seen since the day you finished the course.

The girl you used to hang out with because you thought she was better, brighter and more talented than you, but was nothing but a manipulative user who never had an original idea of her own.

The guy in the art store that time who told you he wouldn’t recommend mixing those kinds of colours on the same canvas.

I’m sure you can think of other examples in your own life.

Once we start to realise that the choices we’re making in our work and the projects we’re embarking on are being defined by what we think will please other people – people that have no positive part in our lives anymore (if they ever did) – we can begin to move on.

We can gently prise their pale fingers one by one from our throats, and breathe freely again. Breathing naturally, just the way we’re supposed to.

How many of these kind of influences do you think you still have in your life?

Let them go. Let go of the desire for their approval.

Stage 2. Stop seeking approval from those close to you.

Your family, who have never understood your invincible compulsion to create, to try to express yourself through your art, and who offer “helpful” comments like “why don’t you get yourself another nice little hobby instead”. One they approve of and that fits the neat, safe, respectable labels they have for you, of course.

Your friends, who respect that you need to create, but don’t ever get your work. The best you might hope to hear is “it’s um, interesting. It’s very you. But it’s not really my cup of tea.” That’s great, you’re not making it for them!

We may love these people very much, as they may love us, but it doesn’t mean we have to lead our lives the way they want us to, the way they think is best.

Who knows what motivates, inspires and thrills you best in the world? Yes, you do. So who’s in the best position to be deciding which creative projects to take on? Yes again, you.

How many of these kind of influences do you have in your life?

Let them go. Let go of the desire for their approval.

Stage 3. Give yourself approval.

Ultimately there’s only one person whose permission you need to create the work you need to create.


Are you giving yourself that permission, that approval?

In what ways?

Are you giving yourself specific time each month, each week, each day, to focus on the creative work that matters to you?

If you’re not giving your creativity this time and space, you’re denying yourself the approval you need to be the artist you can be.

Are you allowing yourself the freedom to explore new themes, new ideas and new media, or sticking to the same safe, tried and trusted projects to the point where you resemble a factory robot more than the real, human, beautifully flawed artist that you are?

If you’re not giving yourself this freedom to explore, you’re withholding your approval.

Are you allowing yourself to make mistakes, to fail, to follow dead ends? Or do you live in a permanent cycle of having a wonderful idea, gathering all you need to begin it, then at the last minute switching to the next shimmering, alluring new idea that sashays into view? You know, so you don’t actually have to get the point where something might not turn out as perfectly as you planned.

If you’re not giving yourself this permission to try, to make mistakes, to learn, and evolve, you’re not giving yourself approval.

You’re going to still be stuck in the same cycle next month, next year, next millennium.

None of us can race through these three stages overnight, and suddenly create with the glowing approval of no-one but ourselves.

It takes time to unravel, especially if we have years’ worth of programming and habitual thinking and behaviours to unlearn.

But we can start, today – you can start today – with the first step.

You can put your feet, your hands, and your mind in motion, beginning with noticing the kind of influences that are holding you back. Recognising the voices in your head that are telling you that you shouldn’t and you mustn’t, turning down their volume, and letting them go.

Finding freedom as an artist to create the wonderful work that’s simmering inside you, desperate to burst into the world, begins with letting go of the need for everyone else to give their approval.

How are you going to start this process yourself?


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7 thoughts on “Finding Freedom And The Removal Of Approval”

  1. Wow, amazing post. Your words give me courage.
    It really isn’t easy to get rid of years of programming. It’s actually hard work. But it’s worth it. Your words make it easier.
    Thank you.


  2. Nice post, thanks for the encouragement.

    I’d like to see a follow-up, one that answers the question at the end: How to do it? As any who had this problem knows, it’s easier said than done. Self-approval is not just a statement. Saying “OK, from now on, I’m going to care only about what I think about my art” is usually just a well-intended lie. In the best case, it will stand for a couple of days, maybe even a week, but then the years of wrong doing will take their toll and everything will fall apart right where it was.


    1. Thanks for your comment dandellion.

      I wrote the post in three steps to give people an outline of an approach they can take to begin detaching themselves from this need for approval, because, like you say, years of habits can’t be undone overnight. If we start the process with those who actually have no important place in our life (and maybe never did!), we can start to gain momentum, and then move on to the next stage.


  3. Thank you so much for this post. It is a constant struggle for me to remain focused on work I want to do. To give myself permission to create and not take care of everyone else’s needs first. To actually tune in and shut out.


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