How The Desire For Approval Can Make You Fake

The hysterical laughter of my friends encourages me as I stoop down to lift an enormous cement trash can off of the 2nd story of Stonebriar mall, overlooking the valet area.

“Yeah, John! Throw that shit!”

I heave it over the side and it falls faster than I would’ve thought, only I’m not watching it because I’m sprinting towards the getaway truck. Then, all of a sudden, BOOM, I hear the trash can impact what can only be a car. Sirens go off. People are screaming. As I dive into the back of the truck and receive my well-earned high fives, I give not one thought to the fact that I could have easily killed someone. Instead, I’m obsessed with making sure my friends in the truck think I’m cool.

Throughout my life, I’ve tried a slew of different destructive tactics to earn that cool status. Whether it was spending nights alone in my barracks room training myself how to chug beer properly, or finally doing those drugs I told myself I’d never do, each vain attempt just led to another opportunity to succumb to my insecurities.

Nietzsche was right when he said,

“Man can endure almost anything if he understands the reason for his suffering.”

When we truly believe that we can suffer to earn the love of others, that we can fake who we are to get some friends, that we can bend our ideals and morals to smooth over the uncertainties in the heart, then there’s nothing we won’t consider doing.

As a sophomore in high school, I didn’t really have any friends. I just didn’t know how to be cool. I was the oldest of 3 brothers, there wasn’t really anyone teaching me how to fit in, or talk to girls, or anything.

There used to be this show on MTV called Jackass. The show dominated the early 2000s and set an entire generation on a short battle march towards purposeless destruction. It featured Johnny Knoxville and his crew of misfits pulling absurd pranks and borderline run-ins with the law. They were able to somehow tap into a generation still formulating its own identity, the generation that wasn’t quite old enough to jam to Nirvana, but was ready to stand out on its own terms. Each week, you could watch the Jackass crew set port-o-potties on fire, light fireworks in their parent’s room at 2am, or race tricycles in traffic while wearing gorilla suits. Like many other teenagers watching the show at the time, the show immediately gave me an idea of how to earn my golden ticket to high school popularity.

blow-stuff-upThere was nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure my friends liked me. Every weekend we set out on a new mission. We’d throw fast food back into drive-through windows, make napalm and set port-o-potties on fire, or hurl rolls of toilet paper from the 4th floor of the mall. We broke into model homes and smashed the chandeliers inside, stopping up the sinks with rags and turning the water on full blast. I was afraid that we would get caught and thrown in jail, but I was tragically more afraid of losing my fake friends.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Sometimes we’re more afraid of losing our fake friends than gaining real ones.” quote=”Sometimes we’re more afraid of losing our fake friends than gaining real ones.”]

How far will we go to attain the approval of our friends? I’d wager to say we’ll go just about as far as we’re able to when we succumb to our insecurities. We all entertain that voice of fear that tells us, “You don’t fit in,” or “They do think you’re fat,” or “You’re the reason your dad left.” If we let it continue, we become convinced that we have to be someone else to be able to earn love. We become convinced that we can mask who we really are to fit in.

Not one time through our escapades did I feel any sort of happiness or joy. Instead, I felt desperate, insecure, afraid. I wasn’t sure if any of this stuff was working, and I convinced myself that I just had to push it farther and farther until I received the love and respect I deserved.

I never did. Sure, I got my high-fives, but at the bottom of my heart I knew – they were fake. I was fake. I was playing a part, and after my little performances, people clapped and went home murmuring, “Wow…what a jackass.

If you’re like me, you might not even know why you’re doing it, you just know you want to be..accepted. But how far will that take us? How desperate do we have to become to keep grasping for the attention of our friends? Hey, better to spend years and years of my life being someone I’m not than confronting my fears, right?

The next time you’re out, desperately attempting to please your friends, dig down and think about it- am I being who I really am? Or is this just a mask? If these people won’t love me for who I really am, why am I trying so hard?

Think about taking the mask off. You very well may lose some friends, but at least you won’t be sacrificing yourself for the approval of others.

Showing 2 comments
  • Aaron J Kelley

    John, this story is so touching. I see myself in your words, doing things so that my friends thought I was cool, when in fact I hated doing those things. The pranks, the language, the behavior… none of it was me. Even today, as a blogger I often find my self sometimes seeking the approval of “influencers” when in fact, that’s just me wearing another mask. Thank you for a powerful post and a reminder to be me, regardless of what others think.

    • John Williford

      Thanks for your words Aaron! I appreciate your taking the time to read, and encouraged at the similarities you found between us. I love discussing “the mask” or behavioral issues because I often feel it leads back to a felt need within our hearts. We somehow think we’re missing something, and so we chase after whatever society dishes out to us.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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