Approval is Overrated

When I work with coaching clients one-on-one, we focus on several pivotal shifts in consciousness.

One is to bring the attention from the endlessly changing stream of thoughts and fleeting feelings to becoming aware of awareness itself. Once you awaken to your true nature in this way, it is the foundation upon which everything else becomes possible.

Another is to recognize and liberate blocks in consciousness: the things that we resist. In an ironic way, the things that we most push away become the things that dominate our lives.

But the thing that becomes the most important focus for almost every client is the recognition and empowerment of their unique gift. This doesn’t necessarily mean what they “do” in the world, what their job is, but that unique flavor which flows through this person more than anybody else. It’s surprising how rarely people really tap into and bring forth the gift they were born to give. When it happens, it becomes a Steve Jobs, or an Isabel Allende, or a Leonard Cohen. The biggest reason I have found why people don’t dare to bring forth their unique gift, to sing their song loudly to the world, is our addiction to approval. Or to put it another way, our deadly fear of disapproval.

I thought I knew all about disapproval. I went to a British boy’s boarding school in the 1970’s. The only equivalent we really have to this kind of environment in the United States is a federal prison. Put a bunch of testosterone-driven young men together, and they don’t always bring out the best in each other. Bullying, back stabbing, character assassination: these are just the things that happen before breakfast. You learn not to stick your neck out too far in any direction, unless you want to risk it being locked in the stocks, as the focus of rotten fruit and taunts.

I got my full-on initiation in moving beyond fear of disapproval, however, earlier this year. When Dr. Gay Hendricks and I put together our little movie called “Dear Woman,” we expected it to go the way of most Youtube videos. A few hundred hits perhaps, or if it’s really extraordinary a few thousand. As you probably know by now, we made the movie with almost no money, we just gathered together a few friends here and there. Even those who appreciate the movie have to admit that it’s kind of cheesy, even if it’s a gesture appreciated by some.

I had no way to anticipate the barrage of hatred that movie would unleash. We received thousands and thousands of hateful email from men who felt violently disgusted by the tone of the film. Every insulting epithet you’ve ever heard of was hurled at us through the Youtube comments. “F**g**t,” “mangina,” “beta male”… it went on and on and on. For a while, one of our team was checking the comments and approving them (many were just way too vile to be printable), but after a few weeks he started to suffer suicidal tendencies, so we had to take him off the job. So every now and then I have to go and do it myself, rather like cleaning up the vomit off the rug when our cat has a bad stomach. Going through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of personal attacks can’t be anyone’s idea of fun, but it’s brought me to a great and valuable insight that I want to share with you today:

Being hated by large numbers of people is not nearly as bad as you might think.

So many of us walk around on tiptoes trying to do and say the right thing and gain everyone’s approval, but when you end up making a viral video that wakes up the collective hatred of hundreds of thousands of men, well, you learn to get over it. As the months have gone by, I find myself less and less effected by reading the comments when I have to. Something like walking near a beautiful lake where there’s a lot of mosquitoes: you brush them aside and enjoy the view.

I am making another film now, probably even more controversial than the one that we already put out. I even find myself looking forward to stirring up more disapproval.

So I would love to hear from you. What are the things that you hold back from doing, saying, or creating, for fear of being disapproved of? If you too could have the opportunity to have thousands of angry men insulting you week after week on Youtube, until it became like a background hum, what outrageous, bigger than life, crazy message would you unleash on the world, no longer caring if they like it or not?

I am excited to hear what wild and unique gift sits inside of you, held back only by our shared addiction to approval.

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16 Responses to “Approval is Overrated”

  1. Douglas Raglin November 16, 2011 at 4:02 am // Reply

    Hey Arjuna, I am enjoying your insight in issues of the basic human condition. I found myself considering some of the times I really wanted to let my view be known, but withheld knowing that others present would probably not agree with what I had to say. To be free from my own restrictions would be much more liberating than any real control others have over me.
    Approval and control continue to be major factors regarding my behavior. Addressing these issues directly brings some awareness into conditioned behaviors. Thanks…..I also enjoyed your view on the occupy situation, the suffering of those that aren’t even aware there is a problem deserves some compassion.


    • Jeanne January 19, 2012 at 1:04 am // Reply

      Hi Arjuna
      I can relate. I have a book that I can’t get past disapproval. its about the spiritual aspect of the ’60’s. I’m very passionate about it, and when I try to explain my vision, I get glazed rolling eyes! Not exactly hatred, but more like people distancing themselves because they think I’m nuts.


  2. Jane McGilivray November 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm // Reply

    I love it…. ” If you too could have the opportunity to have thousands of angry men insulting you week after week on Youtube, until it became like a background hum, what outrageous, bigger than life, crazy message would you unleash on the world, no longer caring if they like it or not?” finally a question comes forth that is worth answering……Thank you Arjuna. This opportunity comes along so rarely!

    Marie Rainer Rilke said something like: “Learn to live the question like a book in a foreign tongue….”

    Thank you so much for the great and most worthy question..


  3. Vicki Howie November 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm // Reply


    Thank you. I laughed so hard at your comment about your guy having suicidal tendencies. You were joking, weren’t you? Maybe not. Anyway, bravo. Good for you!! I can’t wait for the next video!!

    I too have been emphasizing the pulsation toward honoring the Divine Feminine — in our chakras — and finding crazy resistance.

    Whenever I put anything about pleasure on my Chakra Boosters Facebook page, it sits there like slug that everyone is afraid to touch.

    Pleasure and spirituality just don’t mix in so many people’s minds. It’s so sad. We were BORN to enjoy this body — it’s a slice of God/Goddess.

    Anyway, I found myself tending to avoid second chakra posts about sexuality and pleasure and the Divine Feminine. And then, I just hit a critical mass — like you cleaning up the cat vomit — and I basically said “screw it” — and now I actually enjoy stirring the pot a bit, seeing what kind of reactions (and silences) I can get.

    Some of us have to nudge (or even poke) the collective consciousness. Thanks for being one of the nudger-pokers with me.


    Vicki Howie


  4. Fraeda Scholz November 16, 2011 at 10:24 pm // Reply

    I saw the video (I am a woman) and though I thought it was cheezy I also decided to take it seriously because It felt like it was created with a pure intention and I really appreciated it. I believe that men and women need to heal the past pain if we are to move forward as partners and I feel that was the intention of the video. I allowed that intention to touch me and feel deep forgiveness and gratitude for the men in my life and for things men have done to women throughout history. I think forgiveness of men is one way we can embody our true power and stand for partnership and love with men. Thanks for making the video. It did some good for me. Lots of Love


  5. Ronja November 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm // Reply

    Hey Arjuna!

    Thank you again for a fantastic blog post! This comes EXTREMELY timely. And wow… phew… In my case it’s about the disapproval of ONE person, and letting go of the need for approval from him was a big learning in and of itself. Reading this surely puts it into perspective. 😉

    I have watched ‘Dear Woman’ many times, and every single time it moves me to tears of gratitude and appreciation for the love that comes through all of you. Everyone I’ve showed it to loves it as well.

    (Haha, and reading some comments about that you’ve probably never had a woman, and knowing how wonderful, beautiful and amazing both Chameli and Katie are… they just don’t have any idea…)

    Keep up the great work, deeply rooted in your loving purpose.

    Love, Ronja


  6. Mariana Caffaro November 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm // Reply

    Thanks Arjuna for your insight, I find myself looking for recognition too much. On the 11:11:11 meditation I went to in the centre of my city (Buenos Aires), a lot of passers by insulted us and called us “the crazy people who expected the end of the world”. My God! We were meditating so that the “new light” of peace and love was anchored for the benefit of humankind. I wanted to explain all those people how wrong they were. Why should I care what others think! I should have continued with my meditation.
    I’m sorry so many men didn’t get your message on Youtube. I appreciate it very much


  7. dee November 17, 2011 at 12:44 am // Reply

    Why were the men so upset. What was it triggering in them?

    It would be freeing to not care about others approval? What about your wife’s ?


  8. steve November 17, 2011 at 1:29 am // Reply

    I think an underlying issue here is that of authority. There is nothing wrong withwanting approval from a source of authority. ‘Dad, can I have a piece of candy?’ is a good example of seeking approval which is healthy. We wouldn’t want our children running around disposing of authority to their own demise would we? -there isn’t anything wrong with authority unless it has been abused. If this happens enough in a culture, the words authority and abuse will become entangled. When that happens, it can be attractive to throw out all traces of approval in the name of freedom, but the truth is that what we really want is the approval of a trustworthy source of authority and not some misguided consternation from a source who’s interest is only in the status quo.


  9. Signe November 17, 2011 at 8:20 am // Reply

    It strikes me that so many people are so separated from everything. They are so close to themselves so they can´t see anyone else.No wonder that they can´t understand “Dear woman”.

    I feel it deep in my body that I carry memories from women before me. Therefore it touched me deeply to listen to “Dear woman”.

    And partly, or maybe totally, what´s keeping me from doing great is me holding me back. Afraid of shining too much – but I know in a crazy way that I would love it!


  10. Hanne November 17, 2011 at 10:20 am // Reply


    I really do recognize a lot in your story, so thank you for sharing it. The story about the mosquitoes was a very good picture of how to deal with the comments.

    I saw the video, and I liked it. What I like more, is how a person who know all about disapproval and learned not to stick the neck out too far in any direction during the British boy’s boarding school in the 1970’s, can turn out to be such a nice person with such insights and working with own and other persons potential. I find that interesting.

    There are things I hold back from doing, saying or creating for fear of being disapproved. An example is this year’s invitation from my sister to spend Christmas at her place. She and my husband do not get along very well, so I am afraid to ask him – and that he does not want to go. This might not be the largest case in the world, but it affects me a lot. I am often described as brave, but these two persons can get both the worst and the best out me, and I find my selves in the middle trying to satisfy them both…

    Hanne (Norway)


  11. anders November 17, 2011 at 11:39 am // Reply

    Well, there is a special problem here, as I see it. The problem is that you might ant to have results. That you want to make an impact. And this is specially complicated when you are acting towards someone who has formal power over you, an employer, a landlord etc.

    In these cases, it doesn’t seem to be enough to just “do your thing” or speak your heart. In fact, the more straightforward you are, the more some of the mini-popes “above” you will be provoked and turn you down. I have a number of experiences like that. So what to do? How to find the behaviour that gives result?


  12. Diana November 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm // Reply

    Dear Arjuna! the combination of the hyperbole and a half AND your text made my day. Because of one of my gifts is playing with pictures and words, I did some “spiritual” cartoons, BUT inside there is still something like: ” No way this is childish stuff, this is NOT serious enough” and so on. I can be very serious BUT playing is one of my favorite states of mind, a good condition to be creative. When I get rid off the monster of disapproval there is still the OTHER one called “Dont show yourself too much” (this is a tipical german flavour)These two monsters are sister and brother isnt it?
    I think one of the best ways to deal with is to put it in a form (out) like hyperbolic brother or to dance, whatever. THank you!! Playfull greetings Diana


  13. Luke November 17, 2011 at 11:48 pm // Reply

    Thank you for your post. I admire that you guys stay true to your beliefs/views and you are willing to put up those videos.
    It takes courage and it’s inspiring.


  14. Elizabeth November 18, 2011 at 12:28 am // Reply

    I would say that we are all Greatness and when we live from that we do what we came here to do and we assist others in living their Greatness (if I wasn’t afraid to say it of course).

    I would say that whatever isn’t truth doesn’t last, i.e., communism, the Berlin wall, the Roman Empire, etc., if I wasn’t afraid.

    And there is plenty more that I see that isn’t truth and won’t last, but I am afraid to say those here.

    And thanks for Dear Woman. It’s so great to hear that men are starting to get it.


  15. Henny Fischli November 18, 2011 at 4:22 am // Reply

    Of course you stirred up a hornet’s nest with your video “Dear Woman”! You touched a nerve in every man who has abused and disrespected women and I believe healed them. They needed to release this poison.
    Good for you! I am a woman and I thank you. And I admire and love you!


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