Humans are hard-wired for “togetherness.”
Millions of years ago, when making it through a single day was considered a feat, people relied on one another for survival. Tribe members shared food and other resources, cared for one another’s young, and if it came to it, they worked together to fight off predators.
Back then, social capital and survival went hand in hand. Some social scientists think this intrinsic desire to stay on another person’s good side worked its way into the modern brain, and that it manifests as approval-seeking.
But what was essential to our paleolithic ancestors doesn’t necessarily fit into contemporary contexts. Now, especially if you’re an entrepreneur launching or scaling a business, approval-seeking can quickly morph into self-sabotage.
As much freedom as it offers, entrepreneurship is hard, and you’ll need help in the process. What you don’t need is anyone else’s permission to do the right thing for you and your business. Relying on external reassurance will erode the very self-trust you relied on to launch your vision — and, over time, trigger negative emotions that could stand in the way of your success.
Here’s how to stop seeking approval as an entrepreneur, once and for all.
Revisit your “why” — again and again
In JotForm’s earliest days, I often questioned whether I was taking the right approach, and if I would ever measure up to my peers. It seemed like every other entrepreneur secured outside funding to support their brilliant ideas, but I worked all on my own — and slowly — to build a product that would resonate with my customer base.
When I felt like I was lagging behind with my bootstrapping approach, I reminded myself why I set out to build JotForm in the first place: to improve my customers’ lives. When you find yourself longing for affirmation that you’re doing the right thing, anchor yourself by revisiting your personal “why.”
Ask yourself: Why did I start this business to begin with? What problem am I attempting to solve, and whose life will that solution transform? Whatever your answers are, hold onto them. They’re the only validation you need as you pursue your goals.
As you learn to rely on your own internal compass, remember: You didn’t launch your business because someone else persuaded you to. It was your idea; you bravely ventured out because you saw a need. Let your mission — and the grit it took to build something from it — continually inspire you as you struggle and grow.
Seek support, not approval
When the pandemic hit, I — like most other business owners — found myself fighting many unfamiliar battles. The biggest struggle I encountered was a mental one. As my team and I strategized to find new ways of working together on the product we’re passionate about, I had a nagging feeling that I was about to fail. That we were all about to fail.
What I thought would fix it: For someone to tell me I was doing a good job, and that I had what it took to carry my team and our customers through this difficult time. What actually fixed it: To simply ask for help when I needed it.
What I really needed wasn’t someone’s approval, but to be honest about where I needed their help filling in gaps. It can feel vulnerable to admit you can’t always do it all alone, but sometimes, enlisting the support of people you trust is the most effective way forward.
So when you’re hungry for external approval, ask yourself what you really need. Another person’s validation won’t alleviate your fears — but asking for a little support can empower you to overcome them.
Stop fearing failure
One of the most significant drivers in my own need for approval has always been the fear of failure. When I mentally create high stakes, I need more coddling from other people to motivate me to do what I’m scared of — and, in the end, I’m far less likely to take the risks that will actually help me succeed.
On the other hand, as I have learned to reframe failures as learning opportunities rather than end-points, I’ve become a whole lot less afraid of messing up. In the process, I’ve also become a whole lot more confident in my abilities. If I veer off track from what I set out to do, I can internalize important lessons that will help me when I move forward.
As executive coach Susan Peppercorn writes in Harvard Business Review,
“The chips aren’t always going to fall where you want them to — but if you understand that reality going in, you can be prepared to wring the most value out of the experience, no matter the outcome.”
Learn how to validate yourself
Throughout your business journey, you’ll have some great cheerleaders — people who believe in your vision and, if you’re lucky, want to partner with you in it. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to do all the hard things required to make your business successful.
Leading your business requires strength, and it’s up to you to summon it. One simple and effective way to do that? Learn how to validate yourself.
In difficult moments, reminding yourself of how far you’ve come and what you’ve already accomplished will instill the courage you need to keep going. When you’re celebrating something positive, taking time to affirm your accomplishments will internalize your success, which in turn will rev you up to take more risks.
In either scenario, you’ll have the tools you need to follow your own internal compass and build a business you’re proud of — with or without anyone else’s approval.