In her new book, Love Idol, former journalist Jennifer Dukes Lee shares how she transitioned from seeking approval from other people to realizing that God's love is all the validation she needs.
As a reporter for the Des Moines Register, Lee interviewed subjects ranging from local dignitaries to the vice president of the United States, but she never reached perfection which was the goal she coveted most.
It took her years to realize she had an addiction to approval; she eventually found that it was possible to stop being a people pleaser and discovered full freedom and joy in Christ.
Throughout the book, Lee says it is OK to make peace with imperfection, as she notes from her own personal experiences, and urges readers to stop working overtime for a love that is already theirs.
The following is an edited transcript of Lee's interview with The Christian Post.
CP: Now that you no longer seek approval by way of front page bylines, do you still struggle with wanting validation?
Lee: Yes, I do. We moved to a farm in northwest Iowa and I thought I would feel some sense of peace in moving up here, away from that performance-driven lifestyle of a news reporter. But a love idol is like a parasite, it goes with the host. Even though I moved, the love idol is still hanging on my back.
When I got up here, all the accolades were suddenly gone. I had nothing to feed my need for approval, but I still had that need and I didn't know yet that the answer involved God.
CP: Women in general seem to have an issue with seeking approval from others, even though it might cause stress and even sorrow. Why do you think they continue to look for approval, even at their own expense?
Lee: There are several reasons, and one is the cultural expectation to strive, to perform and do well and get the A on the report card and in life. These aren't bad things. God is expecting to use our gifts for His glory, but the problem comes when we seek our identity from our performances.
We have also become a culture that wants to know right now whether we matter. We want to know right now if we have value and significance. We've become a fast food, microwave culture and that applies to our own spiritual health. On social media we put a status or photo up and we want to know instantly, "Do you like me? Do you like this? Will you share this and retweet it?" That creates a culture where we lose a bit of the eternal perspective that we have in the Lord.
Craving and approval isn't a bad thing, it's from the Lord. But we want it now, and sometimes when we can't see God in our lives and we don't know what He's up to, we use what we can see in front of us to determine whether we're approved of. We fill that craving with the false food of human validation and approval. We fear man and want people's validation, but we forget that God is already seeing His love and approval over us.
CP: You write about how people begin to crave approval from a young age. What do you do to ensure that your daughters are not caught up in that approval addiction cycle?
Lee: The world will continue to woo them with expectations and as parents, Scott and I spend a lot of time telling our daughters that they are loved as is, and that they are pre-approved.
They say lessons are caught, not always taught, so my husband and I have to live that out in their lives. How many times have my daughters seen me scowl at my own reflection? How many times have they seen me make great use of a filter on Instagram? I think we have to demonstrate that idea of living from our approval instead of for people's approval, and we have to demonstrate that on a daily basis with our children because they're watching.
CP: Once in a while, we reach that one thing we've been striving for and after the applause, the approval and the satisfaction of reaching it, we ask, "Now what?" How can we get through those moments that make us feel accomplished yet unfulfilled?
Lee: If you're trying to gain some peace from your identity and your worth as a person from performance or from your Savior's performance, it's appropriate to encourage one another, to be delighted in our achievements and to excel in our workplaces for the glory of God.
But our worth and value isn't in the accomplishment. It's wonderful to get an award or an accolade, but that's not to lose sight of the accolade that's coming, and that's the divine accolade.
CP: Let's face it, we do need approval from others in our careers, relationships and life, but can women reach a place where they seek a healthy amount of validation without getting caught up in an obsessive cycle of wanting more?
Lee: I think when you're seeking it apart from God, it is a never ending cycle. When we no longer rely on the praise or approval for our performances, we find freedom and that's the point where we can find joy in affirmation without craving it.
I had to struggle through some of that even when I was writing the book, because eventually I knew that my book would be on amazon.com and my own heart would be subjected to a five star rating system. God continued to tell me throughout the process, "Jennifer, your role is obedience to the call. I am God and in charge of results." Whatever praise comes, means very little and whatever criticism comes, means very little. Is that easy? No. Is it the truth? Yes.
CP: What's your advice for young women starting out in their careers who think that the approval others is the measure of success?
Lee: The first thing women need to do is remind ourselves everyday what the Lord says about us. God wants to fill our need of approval and love and that the approval we've always wanted is already ours.
We can also identify where we go for our approval fix. Every journey of freedom from approval is going to start there. To let go of something you have to first admit that you're holding onto it. And it can be hard to identify those places, because idols are often fashioned to look a lot like some of God's best gifts.
Another area is to stop lying to yourself about yourself. Most of us women have been telling ourselves the same false narratives our whole lives that we're not smart, talented, pretty or witty enough. The lies make us feel pressured into working harder, faster and longer in order to reach some invisible standard that will give us the approval we need.
Try to find opportunities to celebrate other people's successes rather than comparing. We would do well in this world if we picked up more pompoms to cheer one another rather than sticks and stones!