Why Seeking Approval from Others is at Odds with Individual Evolution


Bruce and Brandon Lee

Even the most career driven and ambitious among us eventually come to a decision point, do we follow the norm and risk living lives filled with decisions made by others, or do we take responsibility for ourselves, to become fully engaged with the process of defining what matters and focusing on what's in our control?

Is the pressure we feel self-imposed and framed by our values, or is it social pressure, to fit in, to follow a prescribed path? Sometimes we're afraid of disappointing our parents who worked so hard to put us on their shoulders, get a better life. But is it a good life?

We do have a warrior within, if we let it speak to us, we can learn to appreciate that we have more options, talent, and capabilities than we may think. John Little describes his meeting with Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee in The Warrior Within: the Philosophies of Bruce Lee.

The first point he makes is about experiencing a different context and owning its teachings and influences.

He says:

It wasn't long into the conversation before Brandon's spin on his father's first principle of jeet kune do (“research your own experience”) became evident:

“I respect my father very much, but I'm a very different person than he was. I've grown up in a different country and obviously had many different influences than he had as a result. Acting, however, is something I've pursued on my own. You know my dad passed away when I was nine years old, so we never really had a chance to get into any real deep conversations about acting or a mutual appreciation of films or anything like that. And I've had the opportunity to pursue acting in a lot of different ways that my dad didn't have the opportunity to do, because he got into it when he was much older than I was when I got into it.”

In this case, a premature death took the opportunity for deep conversation with it, but how many times do we let procrastination, often driven by so many things owning our calendar, dictate how we spend our time until it's too late?

Looking for someone to copy is also a delaying tactic.

Instead, Brandon had applied the second principle of jeet kune do (“absorb what is useful”), as it pertained to the martial arts—a practice he began at the feet of his father and that he found particularly useful in developing his own process:

“I guess the martial arts, which are an integral part of my life, come entirely from my father. I'm completely beholden to my dad for that. I mean, he started me in the martial arts when i could walk. He trained me my entire life until he passed away, and then even when I continued my training, it was with one of his students. So while I've had some different influences throughout the course of my martial arts training, essentially the martial arts to me is so connected to my dad that it's almost like they're not different at all. I guess that's been his strongest infuence.”

But then Brandon realized the message transcended the art and he answered Bruce Lee's call to “keep it flowing”:

“My martial arts goal is to keep training and keep evolving. To learn new things all the time.”

Learning new things all the time is a goal for many, but what we end up finding difficult is to approach knowledge with a beginner's mind, and enjoy the process of learning and not just look to amass more facts. Truly be in conversation with the writer, characters, and their stories. This is what enriches our interior life more than the mere accumulation of facts and figures.

Imagination has a big role in the new culture of learning and it is this—to make what we learn ours. Rather than simply being a copy of something else, we have the opportunity to interpret what we learn so we can continue to develop in our own process.

About the actor rejecting the many roles in martial arts films, Little says:

Brandon had decided to reject these roles under the third principle (“reject what is useless”) in order to continue evolving to the fourth principle, the summum bonum (“add what is specifically your own”).

He realized that complying with such an “easy money” request, his choice would have been based upon seeking approval from others and letting them decide how he, as an individual, should evolve.

Brandon emphasized he theme espoused by his dad—“always be yourself and have faith in yourself”—by seeking his contentment from a source within rather than without:

“All I can tell you is that you cannot make choices in your own career, either career choices or choices when you're actually working as an actor, basing on trying to downplay or live up to a comparison with somebody else. You just can't do that. You have to do your own work based on your own gut, your own instincts, and your own life.”

But we must take great care to develop the lens through which we filter our individual experience. This is the conversation we have with ourselves, which determines what we see, and also what the opportunities we attract. When the whole world is reduced to an issue, Brandon calls it “that chip on the shoulder,” we can't see anything without it. 

Often than filter is the belief we hang onto that we should conform to a certain type of life, or to certain behaviors, or that we should carry responsibilities that are none of our business, like the issues put there by others. It can be hard to imagine the weight lifting off our shoulders. We don't want to find out too late, when we invariably do. Brandon says the conversation goes like this:

“Wow, it's so simple now. I can see a different perspective.”

The master, or lesson as it may be, shows up when the student is ready. It's a self-selection kind of thing, we know when a conversation resonates with us because we're suddenly eager to contribute to it. To do the work, to be engaged and an individual that chooses to define who they're going to be.

It can be a long journey with nights full of things that keep us up. The alternative is agency, a path to gain a higher definition appreciation of where we want to go, and also of the process itself of getting there. That, which we call life. We set the bar.