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Internal Validation trumps External Validation any day

standard February 16, 2010 Leave a response

Last weekend M and I dropped the girls off at my inlaws and headed to C’s preschool for her parent/teacher conference.The beginning of the conference went exactly as we expected; C is a lovely sweet girl, etc, etc. But at the end, the teacher paused a bit and asked “Does she… does she look to you to tell her when she’s done something well?”

M and I looked at each other and just nodded, because, duh, she’s 4 and she’s her father’s mini twin, so of course she craves external validation. Really, who among us doesn’t? We encourage her and praise her when she tries something new and when she does something well. It’s how we hope to foster her self confidence. But somewhere along the way she has started relying on that praise as a way to know when she had done well, instead of just using it as encouragement.


It’s a parenting conundrum, you want to raise self confident children so you praise them and encourage them, but you also want to raise self reliant children, so you have to temper that praise.

The teacher suggested that when C comes to us to ask us if we like something we turn the question back on her. I’ve started actively doing that and so far the results are amazing. Instead of scribbling something fast and holding it up for praise, she’s working harder and creating more intricate pictures. And when she asks me if I love it, I honestly can tell her that I do, before asking her what she likes best about it, or if she’s proud of it herself.

This morning I tested out a new exercise class. I sweated and grunted and as my muscles shook under the strain of movements I haven’t attempted in years, I thought “I sure hope the teacher is impressed with how hard I’m working!” And then I stopped myself. Did I really care what a woman in spandex who I had met literally 40 minutes before thought? Didn’t it matter more that I be proud of how hard I was working?

Maybe I needed to take a lesson from the preschool teacher’s recommendation too. 

I checked in with myself and realized that, no, I wouldn’t be proud. I knew I wasn’t giving 100%, maybe just 90%, and when I left I probably wouldn’t be all that please with myself. So I stepped it up. I pushed myself harder at the end of that class and when I left I felt good about my workout. And I was able to say goodbye to the teacher without needing her pat on the back.

Exercise isn’t the only area where I can apply that lesson. When it comes to my book, a part of the lure of sending out query letters is feedback. I’d know if the book is any good. I’d know where it needs work. Because with any luck it would be good enough for agents to give me constructive feedback that would help me make it really great.

But sending out query letters with that goal in mind could also radically backfire. If someone liked my query and sample chapters enough to ask for a full, and if they liked that full enough to ask to represent me, I would be in trouble. Because even though the book is good enough today, I know it’s not as good as I can make it. And I want to be proud because I know it’s good, not because someone else thinks it’s good enough. I want to ask myself if I’m proud of what I did and be able to answer yes without a shadow of a doubt.

And truth is, I’m just not there yet.

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