Do Nothing For Approval: A Letter to My Younger Self

4 years ago

This is a letter to a 26-year old girl who sat on a beach in Boca Raton, and faced for the first time that the path she was on was right for everyone around her except for the person who mattered most: herself. She looked into the Atlantic Ocean and thought, What do *I* want? And so began a journey from a called-off wedding in South Florida, to film school in Tallahassee, and finally to a creative life working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.


Every time I spot the Pacific Ocean now, I'm still a little surprised it's on the wrong side.

Fifteen years later, I could tell that girl that she'll still be working on the question: What do *you* want? She'll still fight the urge to subjugate her own desires and opinions, and to fit into societal norms, working to get up every day and make the choices that make sense to her.


Knowing and owning what you want is a lot easier in your 40s, but the desire for approval is harder to shake off. After all, we're raised to seek it, from our parents, our teachers, our friends. It can lead to good grades; it can lead to illegal drug use. Approval is powerful stuff.

And let me be clear: when it's healthy (and legal!) there's nothing wrong with enjoying approval when it comes. It's great when you do something and people love it and they love you for it. It's a blessing to be able to welcome that.

But, I'd urge her not to do things *just* to gain approval. Because what's going to happen is that sometimes what she knows is right isn't going to be the popular choice. The earlier she gets comfortable with that, the more successful she will be.

What does SHE want? She needs to ask herself, and respect the answer. It can be amazingly difficult to hear, particularly if you've developed what I call "hostess syndrome," where you put everyone else's needs above your own.

At age 26, that girl hadn't yet discovered film school, but it was right around the corner, first at Palm Beach Community College, and then at Florida State University. Being a director would require a diversity of skills. Many will come naturally; some we're still working on. That's the beauty of directing: the challenges and the opportunities for learning never end.

Neither does that child inside who wants to be approved of. She'll always be there, and that's okay. Other people's needs and opinions are important, and filmmaking is a team sport. You don't ever want to get to the place where no one will tell you anything that you need to hear. But as the director whom everyone's counting on to do an exceptional job, she'll have to learn to figure out what she needs.

After that, it's a matter of prioritizing. She'll need to pick her battles wisely.

On our last film short project, the challenge was deciding if a large, on-set monitor, which allows the director to see both the shot and the performance simultaneously, was necessary. Cost: $150 for the weekend, a lot of money in a tight little budget.

The young woman inside still wants to say, "Oh, it's okay, we can cut that. I can make do." She's said it before. The adult director, however, must know that it's needed, prioritize it appropriately, and insist.

Later, the decision will meet with approval. Good decisions often work that way, but not always. And sometimes she'll be wrong. A director makes decisions all day, and must keep working to get as many of them right as possible. She'll spend the rest of her life learning to forgive herself for the bad ones. She'll have to get a little comfortable with that part, too.

All I can tell her is that at least it begins to feel familiar.

I love this quote from Andy Warhol: "Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad. While they are deciding, make even more art." She'll keep believing in her art, in what she sees in her head and feels in her gut.

Liz directing a film

Now? She won't do it for approval. She'll do it for herself.

This post is part of BlogHer's Success Tips For My Younger Self editorial series, made possible by Kaplan.

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