I remember when my mom bought my brother and I our first CD players at Circuit City when we were in grade school. Why my brother got the “Oops…I did it again” album and I got some 50 essential classical tunes by Beethoven is unbeknownst to me to this day. But I was so jealous of him. All my friends listened to Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, which meant it was cool. We put that CD on repeat day and night, until junior high school came, and it became gay to listen to. So I stopped listening to it. All my life, I’ve had a bad case of constantly seeking the approval of those around me by trying to fit in with the crowd.
It was freshman year in high school when I requested my mom to buy another CD for me. Why she didn’t object to getting Lil Jon’s Crunk Juice, with the explicit rating, and scantily-dressed ladies on the album cover and all, I’ll never know. (This is the same woman that would later make me pray to Buddha for inner-peace in my heart before purchasing the m-rated Max Payne playstation 2 game) I couldn’t wait to show off the new album to my new friend in school.
See, in my junior high school, you had the option of either spending 9th grade there or moving on to 9th grade in high school. I was one of the few kids who decided to spend it in a new school, which meant all my friends won’t be around. I had to make new friends. How else to make them than to impress them and make them think you’re cool? I scored some gangster thug points with that Lil Jon CD, but it didn’t stop there. I soon switched my entire wardrobe into clothes that didn’t fit me, or never will for that matter. Less than XXXXL and I wasn’t having it. And it was a requirement to have a white tee sticking out from under every layered color tee. (One time I made such a fuss in Champs when I was shopping with my mom because she thought XXXXL was too big and offered an XXXL shirt. Like, mom, if the shirt doesn’t extend long enough to cover your elbows, or ass because your sagging oversized jeans aren’t doing the job, you’re not cool. Did you not get the memo? Jeez) There was one time I came to class in a 5XL shirt, and one of the kids asked, “Hey isn’t that shirt a little too big for you?” “Nah.” Or is it….damn. I think I screwed up. He thinks I look stupid. Have to go back to my 4XL’s.
Even still, I knew I didn’t belong. I wasn’t a hard, tough guy, looking to pick fights with anyone. But I still put up a front so I could fit in. Still, nobody from the “cool crowd” talked to me. I eventually turned to diablo 2 for the entire second semester, barely going to class, and eventually failing out of honors. If I had a time machine, I’d go back, break the Crunk Juice CD over my head, and donate all my t-shirts to the janitor. Then I’d probably pity and cry with him, because we’re still the same person. Not much has changed about me.
I was introduced to church when my mom brought me there in 2005. She’s Buddhist, but she thinks I’ll be disciplined well in a Christian church. In retrospect, I think she might’ve meant to bring me to a Catholic school, but couldn’t tell the difference. My brother got a head start in the discipline course. She brought him to church the previous summer to volunteer in their summer camp. Things went pretty well. People were very friendly to me. Coming in with my gown-like tees and two-sizes-too-big First Down jacket, I thought I was the new badass that everyone wanted to know. I soon learned that it was expected of church members to reach out and talk to newcomers. Time passed, and my friend group began to shift from school to church. Fortunately, my clothing started shrinking. Some might say it shrank a little too much, towards the metro side, but that’s debatable. I was not gangster anymore. (Um… was I ever…?) But that didn’t change my need for approval. It merely shifted.
I had a whole new group of people to impress. Hey, that guy playing the guitar up front. He looks so cool, I think if I did something like that, people might like to hang out with me. That guitar I ditched in 8th grade suddenly brought in a whole new meaning. Every Sunday and Friday night, we were taught the “God” thing. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time. What do I possibly need from God when I’m getting all the attention from people? Plus, I have girls to impress. I can’t afford to be away from my guitar for another minute. I eventually got into the praise team somehow. Knowing half the time it’s not for the right reason, I never felt comfortable doing it. Bible study groups soon proved as another frontier that needed to be conquered. Maybe if I knew more about God and the bible, people will look up to me. I scoured through Christian websites and commentaries, subscribed to various newsletters, and started reading into apologetics. Because I need to be able to answer every atheists’ question in order to save him from the eternal flames of hell, not to mention, maybe make him feel a little stupid. Not once in my mind did I ever think maybe it would be beneficial to learn to read and understand the bible for myself. Instead, I use it as just another way for me to stand out. It never works.
I’ve spent half my life trying to do everything to impress somebody or protect my image. I’m always quick to point out that technically, I did have a girlfriend (even if it lasted three months and I obviously couldn’t have been worse at maintaining the relationship.) I prefer to keep quiet because its “better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” as Mark Twain advised. And I always make sure I say everything in a way that hints that I could be wrong, to not be put off as an arrogant prick. I put myself down, so somebody can lift me up. My need for approval has gotten to the point where every time I hear a criticism, it’s aimed directly at my heart, beating me down and reminding me why I’m alone.
I’m alone because I still don’t think people like me and want to spend time with me because of the things I say or do. It is understood that unlike the size of the shirts I used to wear in high school, my emotional quality suffers on the tiny end. The tiny, tiny end. I’m known by my friends to offend, re-offend, and post-offend people with the things I unintentionally say or do. And it sucks. The sad part is, how is it that I find it so hard to invest in my relationships, yet at the same time, find their approval as the only validation to my meaning in life? I look up to certain people and when they get upset at me, I freeze up. I don’t know what to do with myself. By putting my entire life’s meaning into someone’s approval and not get it, I have no choice but to conclude there’s nothing left to live for.
The wise king in Ecclesiastes 2:11 got it right when he said that “all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
What will become of my toil for recognition when we fade from this earth? I’m forced to face it: it’s not gonna matter if I ever gained the approval of a certain someone if we’re both gonna be dead. Not trying to be so gruesome, but if 10,000 of us are on a sinking ship in the middle of the atlantic, what difference will it make if I impressed all of them, or infuriated all of them? (Actually, they might be led to sink me sooner the ship does, but still) Soon, we’ll all be dead. None of their opinions will matter. As a matter of fact, give it some more time, and the sun will explode, and everyone on earth will be dead. Then whats to show for all the toil I’ve put into making impressions to everyone I’ve met?
I guess all I’m saying is, what is the reason for my life if none of my actions will be remembered, and therefore not mean anything?
The wise king in Ecclesiastes continues to point out that time spent in doing hard work, and even living wisely proves as a vanity, and a striving after wind. “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” – Ecclesiastes 2:16
And that from dust we came, to dust shall we fall. There’s evil under the sun. The vanity of wealth and honor. It all sounds so dark and depressing. But it leaves one hungry to know more. If all of these things are worthless in the end: approval of men, fame, power, money, what is our meaning to life?
I haven’t read too far into Ecclesiastes yet, but the wise king talks about a Creator. I have to find out what it’s all about. Because I hear Justin Bieber’s the new craze, and I’m not going down that road.