Seeking Approval: The Worst Mistake in Pursuit of Dreams

Dreams, Approval and The Paradox

I wanted to make my parents proud.

We all do. Whoever denies this one is lying.

I especially wanted to make them proud on the occasion of leaving my well-paying “successful” and “oh so safe” career that I’d built over a decade following my hard-earned education to start over by pursuing this crazy, highly-likely-to-fail, mind-boggling dream of writing and building a brand and a business of my own.

Ha! That was a safe bet alright. Putting all my money on zero-double-zero at the roulette table in Las Vegas would have made a much safer bet in hindsight!


Here’s the first lesson, and brace yourself because I’m done sugar coating this truth:

Just because you get all excited about your little dream and go off and take the first one or three hundred steps towards building it does not mean anyone else will feel the same. Not your Mamma! Not your Daddy. Not your grandmother to whom you feel especially close. Not your favorite aunt. Not your children. Not your best forever friend or whatever the silly BFF stands for. Maybe even your beloved sweet heart at first.

Your pet: now that’s a safe bet. I let you have that one. Dogs especially get very excited whether you are coming home from the store or pursuing your dream at long last.

As far as these fragile things called dreams are concerned, however, your first mistake is sharing them. You must keep your dreams locked up in your sanctum for as long as possible, as Firoozeh and I talk about in my show: On Not Sharing Your Fragile Dreams.

Now that your dream is safe, start questioning your very unreasonable expectations that others should support you. Who says?

Where did you get this crazy idea in your head? Get it OUT of your head!

Why does their support or love matter when you are fully capable of doing this on your own? If you aren’t capable on your own, say goodbye to your dreams now and pick up knitting or something.

Why in the name of heaven are you expecting such astronomical levels of understanding from the people around you? This is absurd!

Is It True that Parents and Friends Should Support Your Dream?

Let’s apply Byron Katie’s “The Work” principle here – by the way she is coming onto The Daily Interaction Show in May so watch for her! – and tell me honestly:

1. Is it true that your friends and family should jump up and down just because you finally signed up for dance classes, or started your blog after ages or even wrote a best-selling book? Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely be sure that this thought in your head that they should act this way is true?

3. How do you react when you think that stressful thought? Are you your most fabulous, creative, brilliant genius doing what you love or are you an ounce less?

4. Who would you be without having this crazy thought that your family and friends must support you or react a certain way?

Note: These principles work best if you are interested in being free and not being “right”. If you want to feel “right”, this blog post isn’t for you.

If you want to pursue your dreams and your heart’s yearning relentlessly and you want stop carrying the weight of this nonsense – because whatever you *expect* from others is just that: horrific nonsense – along the way, then good of you to come here. I’ve found the way and it’s yours for the taking, baby!

In my little world. not only did my family not understand me and my calling for a long time (some still don’t), they would worry about me, worry sick as if I had announced a plan to go to the jungles of South America to explore the freaking Amazon River.

They have deadly giant bugs in the Amazon; it is worry-worthy and I have zero interest in real life dangerous crazy situations! Starting a business and pursuing a dream is not worry-worthy.

Worry is the worst substitute for “I’m proud of you!” or “I’m happy for you!”- to which I generally like to say, “Stop it! I am FINE! I am just building a business for God’s sake, not fighting a deadly disease!!!” but the second worst substitute is total silence.

Total silence when you start a business without ever having a clue how do to so. Total silence when you do the scariest thing in your life and are dying for encouragement. Total silence when you finally take a chance at real happiness. Total silence when you need to hear something.

But here’s the catch, my darling reader: Parents or loved ones or friends do not do what we want them to do. Ever! So stop expecting them to do so.

Just Stop It! If you have any trouble with this simple concept, allow Mr. Bob Newhart tell it to you.

Yes, I know. It seems harsh but it’s not half as harsh as carrying that expectation, however secretly, in your heart and embark on what is sure to become bitter suffering and disappointment, the weight of which is sure to crush that precious dream in all its irony.

Why? Because others do not do what you expect them to do (sorry about that) but they wish to do. They do as they please in accordance to the way they see reality.

You can equally do precisely as you please and if pursuing your dream pleases you, then by all means, pursue it like nobody’s business! Now that is the power and beauty of true freedom.

Your dream is your deal, darling. It’s your business. And Only Yours. Honor your dream and protect it from these awful pressures and expectations because that’s the death of dreams.

Do not put these astronomical expectations on your loved ones just because you took a step toward your dream.

Learn The Language that Celebrates Courage

I’ll give you another tip. This is not a territory that our society is familiar with. Those who come to you and congratulate you and support you and tell you how courageous you are are in the minority. Embrace them! Count them among your best role models!

Make friends with them. And remember you have the power to choose and un-choose your friends as well as the power to draw boundaries with your family.

Drink the support and love that they are willingly giving you. And thank your lucky stars that they exist because they are a rare breed.

If your family and friends and loved ones are already in that breed, fine. That’s a great coincidence.

If not, leave them be because it’s not your business to turn your family or loved ones into that breed. It Won’t Work!

You have woken up inside.
You have started to move toward an idea, a dream, a vision.
You have dropped your excuses and taken one bodacious step toward something that is in your heart and not in your head for once.
You have honored the thing that lights you up inside.
You have looked fear in the face and said, “Screw you, pal! Get out of my way! I am sick of being hostage to you!”
You have embraced vulnerability.

And somewhere in this magnificent process, courage watched you take these steps and decided to walk right beside you for the rest of your journey.

You want your parents to understand this????? Or your friends? Are you for real? Does this even look like the person you were before?

They do not even have the right words to say even if they wanted to understand it.

Nobody teaches us this language of being happy for our friends and family when they step out of the ordinary path and take a bold step, however small, toward their dream and passions.

I did not learn this language until I realized how badly I was dying to hear it myself. By then, I had a hole in my stomach caused by my own stupid disappointment about which I warned you earlier. But it’s filled now to the brim. I filled it by giving the encouragement out on every single occasion where I witnessed this act of bold courage in anyone, be it complete strangers, acquaintances, friends of friends, my fabulous clients, readers or even my own family.

The path to freedom is to celebrate your courage and to drop your expectations to hear this kind of thing. Then it’s a beautiful surprise when you hear it. Unexpected music to your ears.

For those of you unfamiliar with the language of celebrating courage, here is what not to say to someone who has just taken a step to pursue their dream:

“Oh but are you sure?”
“I just worry about you.”
“Have you really thought this through?”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“Do you have a backup plan, just in case?”
“You are just not the risk-taker type.”
“I wish I could do that too.”
And other inconsiderate variations.

Here’s what you can say to celebrate the courage of those who take these bold steps, but say it only if you mean it:

“I am so happy for you!”
“I am so proud of you!”
“This can’t be easy. You are amazing!”
“I am just thrilled for your success.”
“It takes guts to do this. Good on you!”
“I am in awe of how you have faced your fears in doing this.”
“You inspire me to do the same for myself.”
“You give me hope to do the same for me.”
“I love how this lights you up and makes you happy.”
“I celebrate your courage.”

But most of all, if you want to be generous beyond the person’s wildest imagination, you take their hand, look them in the eye, and say to them, “I believe in you.”

And if nobody has said that to you, my constant reader, remember that the only thing that matters is that you believe in you, but for what it’s worth, I believe in you too.

  • Melly Deen

    I really believe what you are saying, Farnoosh, and it’s true that when we let go of this expectation – assuming we *can* do it – that life is easier, and we are better off for it. Just so hard to do since we are used to getting approval or rejection from those around us. Is there a habit component here? Thanks !

    • Farnoosh

      Yes, it’s totally a habit that we need to undo, that’s very good observation – the post was getting way too long so I didn’t get into the how-to part of it. It is hard, so hard, to change this habit because it’s so ingrained in the emotional center of our being, but the alternative is what should snap us to reality: If we do not change these expectations, we live to be disappointed. Thank you for chiming in!

  • Oana

    I totally agree with you, dear Farnoosh. But in practice, as Melly Deen said, it is more difficult to go on fulfilling our dreams when our parents disagree strongly with our decisions. Especially when the family ties are so close, it feels bad to keep them in the dark about our plans. Is it naive to believe that we can open up to them and hope that in time, they’ll understand that we are finally grownups and very capable to make our own decisions?

    • Farnoosh

      Hi Oana, yes, it is very difficult which is exactly why I didn’t bother and that was many years ago and I can tell you that what’s more difficult is giving up on your dreams. So you get to choose darling. It’s wonderful to have their support, sure, but if you don’t, you have to choose between your dream and pleasing your parents. Both have consequences, good and bad.
      No it’s not naive to believe they’ll come around and it’s wonderful when or if they do but it shouldn’t drive your plans and your dreams IF you are serious about them, that’s what I was saying :)!

  • Jenn

    Thanks for this post, Farnoosh! I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I’m on board with letting go of expectations that you’ll get the emotional support you need and crave from those around you. (In fact – maybe it’s the recovering pessimist in me, but – perhaps it’s better to expect that you WON’T get it – and then be happily suprised in those instances where you do!) :)

    But I also think it’s valid to keep *hoping* that your family and friends will understand, support, and encourage you. I truly do hope that mine will “get it” at some point and rally around me – maybe they won’t be the “early adopters” of what I’m doing, but at some point, I think they’ll come around, and I HOPE they will because that could be the opening of a door for them to go after their own, outside-the-box dreams. I think people don’t give support to those of us chasing crazy dreams because they are often too scared to chase their own.

    I LOVE the language of courage/encouragement that you provided and the reminder to give encouragement at every opportunity. I already try to do this but will really focus on it going forward, using the language you shared. And yes – the language NOT to use – I’ve heard most of ’em! LOL I think we all have.

    Another thing I think I need to keep in mind is that it’s ok to be personally disappointed if people don’t support me (I know you probably don’t agree with that bit) BUT to shake it off and NOT let it slow me down or impact what I’m doing. In other words, acknowledg the feeling…and then leave it aside and move on!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!!

    • Farnoosh

      Hi dear Jenn, thanks for reading and for being so open to hearing this. And yes it’s absolutely fine to keep hoping – I gave up so now it’s indifferent to me but ideally it would be wonderful to have them support you, sure – the thing we get so hung up on though is why don’t they support us THIS MINUTE right now and in the exact way that we have in mind and that’s what gets in the way of your focus and determination to get your dream going … that’s the energy you can’t afford to waste. You know?

      Having one single source of support always helps – that’s usually spouse/significant other and that may come with some coaxing too but beyond that, I think you are going to find it’s best to just live without these hopes and expectations, so when they arrive, they are a surprise! :)

      Use the language of courage and support and even add to it …. but don’t let such things get to you – the real challenges will require your full attention! And I believe in you, Jenn. I really do!

  • Sharon

    “You inspire me to do the same for myself.”
    “You give me hope to do the same for me.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself! (Oh wait, I just did!! LOL)

    Rock on sista!! Big fan here!

    • Farnoosh

      Sharon, you are sweet. Really and truly and I needed to hear that today – it was one of those days. Thank you darling!

  • Rich Donahue

    Hi Farnoosh,
    I hear what you’re saying. In the past I’ve made the mistake of sharing dreams with the wrong people. It’s just a little discouraging to say the least. I can remember when I was younger and someone said, “you can’t do that”, I was just set on proving them wrong. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. I’ve learned from my mistakes. Today is different and I’m careful with whom I confide in. I’m lucky, I have someone I can share with. If I didn’t I would probably get a dog :-)

    When my children share a dream with me, I try to stay out of the way and encourage them. My oldest son sings opera now. Opera! I would have never guessed that for him :-)
    Thanks Farnoosh and best wishes to you and yours!

    • Farnoosh

      Rich, you are so kind to share those thoughts. “A little discouraging” is an understatement but we learn and instead of getting disappointed, I think we just need to really stop having those expectations. Your kids however are quite lucky to have you, and a dog is never a bad idea. Gosh I could really use one too. Thanks for your loyal readership. You are just awesome, Rich!

  • Tess The Bold Life

    Hi Farnoosh,

    I love Byron Katie’s work. Her 1000 Names for Joy completely changed me life several years ago. Congrats on having her on your show!

    • Farnoosh

      She said yes and I’m over the moon, Tess. Have a burning question for her? Thank you so much and big hugs! I miss you and WDS can’t get here fast enough!

  • Miisa Mink

    Hi Farnoosh,

    your idea to teach people to understand the language of encouragement, or the lack of it, and do it anyway is so powerful. Thank you for this and thank you also for sharing your thoughts earlier on Skype. Brilliant work!

    • Farnoosh

      Miisa, lovely chatting with you today – it was nice and detailed and may your readers enjoy our talk. Feel free to use the language of encouragement anytime anywhere. And thank you for stopping over!

  • Sharon

    Hey Farnoosh,
    Couldn’t help but notice your sideline earlier to another reader, regarding a desire to have a dog/pet in your life. I have to say that my decision a few years back to bring a stray cat into my home and life has been one of the most healing things I have ever done – for myself, and for that beautiful little creature, who incidentally gives me total and complete love and acceptance. What better a family member to have than that!!! We can sometimes find the “support” we need in the most unexpected ways.
    side note: hope this won’t annoy anyone, but both my parents, divorced, support me fully in almost all my choices in life. It’s perhaps easy to take it for granted, and after reading this post, I came to realize how grateful I am for that open support and love. BUT, my personal journey still has not been so easy, and I fully believe that no matter what external feedback we may or may not experience from others, it IS key to take care of our emotional state, stay true to our core, our desires and goals, and … well, keep laughing at ourselves too. Staying true to oneself doesn’t have to be so darn serious all the time, lol!

    • Farnoosh

      Hello dearest Sharon, what a big heart you have to give that cat a loving home.
      Why would your parents supporting you do anything but put a giant smile on our faces??? I absolutely LOVE it! And you are all the wiser because of it. Yes to the fun factor. Being serious all the time is definitely not what it’s about! Thank you for your genuine, kind comments, Sharon and come back often.

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  • Arinze

    I love this. It supports the idea of being immune to both compliments and criticism. Self validation: believing in your self first is huge, the foundation of which dreams are built on. It is also the reason why it is important to be around people who have achieved what you are trying to do (finding a good mentor). I realize the importance of motivation and encouragement but you have to be your own cheerleader first. They say frustration is a function of expectation! Anything someone else does for you is really a bonus that you should be really grateful for!

    • Farnoosh

      So true Arinze, I used to be hooked on compliments and had come to expect them fully! No more! Being our own cheerleader is a brilliant way of putting it.
      And I might steal this quote from you: “Frustration is a function of expectation!” Thank you!! You have a perfect mindset, keep it that way and you will be unstoppable.

  • Priya

    Thanks so much for this post Farnoosh. Yes I do find that seeking approval is a habit. Something that has been ingrained in us right from the start. And so, one that is hard to get rid of. I don’t seek approval from my parents anymore but I do look for words of encouragement from a few others. When I hear them, which is rare, it makes me believe in myself more. And when I don’t I wonder if I am just a pompous dreamer. Thanks for believing in yourself during hard times Farnoosh. I would have lost out on your wonderful inspiring words otherwise.

    • Farnoosh

      Priya, hello to you. How lovely to see you here I checked your blog and can see that you are writing a lot more. And of course you and I talked about this topic on the phone many moons ago. It is not easy, I know my dear! And I know just how much those words of encouragement can warm us up but it’s when they don’t come that they do damage….. but for whatever it’s worth, you are NOT a pompous dreamer UNLESS you believe that you are…then all is lost. Don’t believe it. And I’m so glad I believed in me and now in you and my other readers…. now your turn, Priya. Don’t give up!

  • Shawn

    Everyone wants approval. I think as we “grow up” and start having to take on more and more responsibilities, authority figures in our lives feel the need to make you think that life is about having a job to pay the bills. Work isn’t supposed to be fun, you just do it so some day you can retire with enough money to pay for health care. Taking risks to do something that you love is frowned upon. This is crazy!
    I am lucky I have a wife that will support me no matter what crazy things I decide to do. We both support each other no matter what.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Farnoosh

      Shawn, so right – we all want it, we crave it and we just don’t always get it on the stuff we need to hear it the most ….
      I hear your crazy logic my friend, I really do, and you know my position on that already: I’ve written some 400 blog posts on it 😉
      You are lucky in love and in support as am I with a fab husband….. that’s ALL you need. Now keep hustling and make things happen! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Jenn Gonsalves

    Farnoosh, I just had to follow up and tell you that this idea came into play for me last night in a way I haven’t seen mentioned here in the comments yet. I was meeting with a couple from my church whose son is 19 and just dropped out of college to focus on music, as he wants to be a professional musician. And they support him in his decision! Granted, they made sure he got a part-time job so he had some income once he was no longer studying, but they are so supportive of him chasing his dream, even though they don’t quite understand where it comes from! They encourage him, help him with CD production, marketing, networking, etc.

    So I in turn gave THEM a ton of love, encouragement and support and told them how awesome and rare they are as parents to give that kind of unconditional support and acceptance to someone following a “crazy” dream. :)

    I think encouraging the encouragement is a good thing too! :)

    • Farnoosh

      BEAUTIFUL story! Thank you Jenn. It is rare for parents to be supportive in that sense with such a drastic decision and so lucky for them to hear your words of encouragement. The more you give it, the more you will receive it. Thank you for telling me about this story … and for lighting up the post with your bright attitude and perspective …. keep it up and you’ll be unstoppable, my dear!

  • Mark

    Yep, you nailed this one! I was expecting the apprehension in exactly the dose I received it because I have received it before. I found I was actually ok with it and here’s why: it’s my goal not theirs and people tend to only see others in their “circle” doing things that they themselves could or would do. It’s also easier for someone who doesn’t know you to not be hindered by a preconception of you. I remembered that it has taken me months and months of scary soul searching, sleepless nights and tons of research to reach the point where I’m comfortable with my idea, so how unfair of me to expect others who haven’t walked over all that ground to immediately embrace my plans.
    So I understand and I’m ok with caring and well meaning people, who couldn’t or wouldn’t peruse my path. “…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
    I celebrate your courage! Your doing great work!

    • Jenn Gonsalves

      Mark, what a great point you make and an excellent perspective. Keeping in mind how long it has taken me to build, mold, shape, create, and get comfortable with my crazy dreams (and this is all still in progress, I might add!!) is such a great tactic to make it easier to accept the fact that others won’t always hop on board straight away. Thanks for a really valuable insight here!!

      • Farnoosh

        Mark, I really love how you put it …. I never thought of it that way – we have gone through painstakingly long hours of research and soul searching to get here and we cannot expect others to get there immediately or see the road we have traveled to come to this decision. Brilliant and a great reason not to expect that from others.
        And Jenn, you will get more and more comfortable as your conviction becomes stronger that this is the path for you. I’m rooting for BOTH of you!!!!

  • Terrie

    Farnoosh, Thank you so very much I needed them words some people are very hard on others because they don’t have the balls to go ofter their dreams so they start saying the what if [THAN what your going to do?] my thing is this if we don’t go after our dreams and just sit there doing what we always done. having a feeling of something inside that make you feel so good and to do nothing with it. you have to be crazy well i was crazy not anymore look out world here i come i may be late but that’s okay and my hat off to all of you that’s gone on and for you all that’s still sitting there, get some can do power and will do power and go. well i’m out the door come what may i was going anyway but when i start reading your dreams are your business BOY i tell you that put something inside of me that made me want to get up from my computer and take off running with no shoes on packing nothing just what i had on. farnoosh, you are a non-selfish person and a blessing, may god keep you and always bless you so you can go on helping others. Thank you from my soul hat off to you as well. sign, Terrie

    • Farnoosh

      Terrie, thank you so much for this heart-felt amazing comment that I can see just poured out of you … I am so so glad that this blog lit a fire inside you and that you won’t be hesitating anymore to go after what you are dreaming of accomplishing … and thank you SO MUCH for the kind words about me, Terrie. Come back anytime for inspiration or just to say hello and tell me how things are going for you.

  • Jo Warwick

    Hey, haven’t stopped by as been so busy getting things set up with launch, but so please I did today – loved this !!!! So true. I used to hold so much disappointment and resentment towards my family because of being let down and there overwhelming fear of life that for a long time I was craving attention and doing anything to other people recognition – now thankfully I have healed enough to give and accept that people are people and family and loved ones are no different . Be your own cheerleader, as you say find those who genuinely think your bravery rocks and tell you and absolutely I agree be the one who says you’re awesome, speak from the heart and say – keep it up, keep going when you see someone being inspiring and brave … So kept it up – keep going, your awesome Farnoosh 😉

    • Farnoosh

      Hi Ms. Jo, it’s so lovely to see you and so nice to hear you weigh in on this topic. Here’s what I love the most: “accept that people are people and family and loved ones are no different…” amen to that one and being our own cheerleader, even on days when it does not come easy, right? :) Thanks for stopping by, Jo. Keep me posted on how things get on with you.

  • Sudhir Suvarna

    Farnoosh…you must seek my approval and I will tell you that you are a Celebrity !!! :)) Seek approval but surround yourself with positive minded people who make you feel proud that you followed your dream!

    • Farnoosh

      Thanks Sudhir :)! And good point, if we are surrounded by positive and honest people, seeking approval may not be so bad…. but still, you don’t want to come to depend on it!

  • Jesicka

    Farnoosh! Thank you for this post! I have started following my true path too, since April of this year. My husband and I are creating a tech start-up of our own, and a blog about it to help others who want to create a tech start-up. The catch is, we’re both non-techies! Neither of us has any programming background- and since April we’ve been teaching ourselves through online courses. Our blog is going to document our process. I love your post because I can totally relate to it! We left very safe jobs (working for the city) to pursue something that we didn’t even study in college (heaven forbid!) and now we’re doing a crazy blog (what’s a blog and how can you ever expect to make any money from that?) :)

    Your post made me remember the one or two people who actually did look me in the eye and said “I believe in you.” These were the most powerful words ever. Everyone else said something that sounded like worry, anger, jealousy, condescension or a combination of all of the above.

    I believe in you! :)

    • Farnoosh

      Congratulations to you kids on your new journey. It will be fabulous and help you grow so much along the way. I left the techie world to move into creative stuff but I love LOVE technology – it has enabled us so much. I am very happy for you, Jesicka. Keep me in the loop. I believe in the both of you.

  • Diane Holcomb

    “I believe in you.” Beautiful. Got misty-eyed reading that line. “I believe in you.” I need to say that to myself, too.

    • Farnoosh

      Diane, hugs { } ! :)

      • Diane Holcomb

        Where was that scenic photo taken? It’s lovely!

        • Farnoosh

          That’s from my African Safari, Diane. That’s Kenya. We were staying at the Saruni Samburu camp. It was heavenly! :)