On Saturday, March 24, 1984, five students at Shermer High School report at 7:00 a.m. for an all-day detention: "a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal".
That's where the movie, "The Breakfast Club" begins. Throughout the film, each student will struggle with coming to terms with who they really are (warts, sparkles, and all). One character in particular, Allison Reynolds, deserves some special attention.
See, Allison is a classic undervalued Unicorn. She didn't even earn detention - which, I mean, "earn" isn't a great way to describe it, is it? She went because she had nothing better to do. She's not there for behavior problems, skipping school, or bad grades. From what we can tell, she's smart, thoughtful, kind, and quirky.
On one level she's chosen to "punish herself". On another, she probably doesn't even think of it as punishment. Not unlike some of my clients!
Allison sits alone, ignored by the others. She's quiet and withdrawn, and she's constantly hiding behind her hair and a heavy coat. Allison doesn't say a word until more than 20 minutes into the film, but when she does, she speaks with thoughtfulness and candor. She's clever. She's smart... even if everyone else chooses to write her off and miss her brilliance because of it.
As the day goes on, she takes off her coat, both figuratively and literally, revealing the unique and colorful person underneath. She stops hiding behind her hair and pulls it back so we can see her face! By the end of the movie, she's no longer hiding and connects with the other students (especially Andrew) on a deeper level.
Was it easy? Well, yes and no. Allison asserts her stance while Claire goes to work: "I like that black shit." She's clinging to the benefits of hiding herself. But Allison soon realizes that when you let people help you, it can be safe to be seen for who you really are.
When she walks back into the library, she's uncertain how she'll be received, and quick to "blame" Claire for her appearance.
"What happened to you?" Andrew asks.
"Why? Claire did it!" She snaps. Then, with an air of uncertainty, she says, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. You're just so different. I can see your face."
"Is that good or bad?"
Regardless of Andrew's answer ("It's good!"), the uncertainty is still there. It's starting to melt and Allison's gaining confidence in being seen for who she really is, but she's still not there. It's only after Andrew gives her that external validation that she smiles and lifts her head with confidence.
But what if Allison didn't need Andrew's validation? What if she just strode into the room happy with her new look and confident from within?
That might feel like a stretch for an undervalued Unicorn. I mean, Allison trusted that Claire wouldn't steer her wrong when she let her apply eyeliner in the first place. And Claire had already given her validation before she walked back into the library.
But that still wasn't enough? How much validation do you need in order to be confident? What (or in her case, who) was she waiting for!?!
The problem with external validation
Waiting for someone else to fill your cup is problematic at best, and dangerous at worst. It can quickly devolve into something like an addition - craving attention, being manipulated by the whims of others who dangle their approval like a carrot in front of your face.
Um, no thanks!
I mean, I grew up with it, so I know it well. And it's not healthy. Sure, it's nice to get applause and validation from others. But needing it and appreciating it are two different things.
The fear at the root of this "need" is one of three flavors: fear of failure, fear of judgement, or fear of abandonment. Sometimes, it's a slippery slope of all three. What if I take a risk and I fail? What if I'm not good enough? What will people think? Will they leave me and never return?
You might be thinking that if you wait long enough, the right opportunity will present itself, and you won't have to risk anything. Perhaps, but you might also be waiting a long-ass time for that magic moment to appear. Plus, I don't believe opportunity only knocks once. In my experience, opportunity likes to play ring and run. It keeps coming back, over and over, but you've got to be at the door to catch it. If you're waiting on the couch, you'll never get there.
This creates a feedback loop of low confidence. You're waiting for someone else to give you the credential, the recognition, the opportunity, instead of stepping into the leadership role that's custom-made for you. You think that if someone else sees your potential, they'll give you the invitation to play at their party.
That's not always the case. Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities.
Give yourself permission to be who you really are. Even if that's dangerous or scary. Don't wait for someone else to validate your or tell you that we're good enough. You're already magnificent! Find someone that helps you believe in and won't let you buy into the bullshit lies the rest of the world wants to pile on. Then, take action toward your dreams. Even when it seems like no one is looking. If you're only working when everyone else can see and applaud it, you're not going to make much progress.
Take a page out of Allison's book. Take off your coat, engage, and let the world see who you really are. If that feels scary on your own, get help. Find a supportive community, a friend, or a coach to help hold space for the shining star you're becoming. Take small steps, a few at a time. Do what you can as you are able.
You don't need permission to pursue your passions and be yourself - because you already have it! Don't wait for someone else to tell you that it's okay. IT IS OKAY! Take a few small, calculated risks, build your confidence, and don't be afraid to fail. That's how you learn!
You have the power to choose yourself and create your own opportunities. Don't wait for someone else to recognize your worth - show them what you're capable of. Stop hiding, start shining like the star you are and OWN your dreams. Choose yourself and see who shows up to cheer you on.