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'Approval Junkie' author Faith Salie on why seeking approval can actually be a good thing

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Sharon Schuster

Faith Salie is many things: A panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, a journalist on CBS News Sunday Morning, a mother, and… an approval junkie. While this insatiable thirst for approval has been postive in some ways (nothing gets you a solid career like wanting your boss to think you’ve done good work), Salie has learned that this trait can backfire when you seek it from the wrong places.

In a conversation with EW, Salie opened up about her relationship with approval — and what she learned about herself through her writing process. Approval Junkie hits shelves Tuesday.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to write this book?

FAITH SALIE: Well, I had a bunch of stories I wanted to tell, and I started looking at them, and trying to turn them into a collection in my mind. I thought, “What is the theme that runs through these?” And pathetically and accurately, I pinpointed that pretty much my life has been this quest for approval. But my life has also been an evolving relationship with approval. I’ve reached more clarity as I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve been through more experiences, about when it’s worth seeking approval, and from whom it’s worth seeking approval. Because the other reason I wanted to write the book is I think there’s a zeitgeist, particularly now, of people saying that they… DGAF? What do the kids say?

Oh yeah, “IDGAF.”

Yeah, exactly. See, you’re a kid, I forgot the vowel in the front. But there’s a very brazen sort of attitude about not caring what people think, and I can understand where that comes from — obviously no one wants to be hamstrung by everyone’s opinion all the time, or we couldn’t create or be ourselves and we’d live in a fear-based society — but on the other hand, it just seems like the people who say they don’t give a s— the loudest are people like Kanye West, who you know gives such a s—. I mention this in the book, but he gets in a Twitter war with Jimmy Kimmel because Jimmy Kimmel has little kids read Kanye West tweets! Or Donald Trump says he doesn’t care, right? I mean he… anybody who dares to criticize him gets nasty pictures of his wife put on Twitter!

I think there’s something very disingenuous about literally all people who say that they don’t care about anyone’s approval. And I also wanted to write a little defense of it, because sometimes seeking approval can get you pretty far. There’s really no downside to being a decent person or making good grades, or just not being an a—hole, you know what I mean?

Right. It makes you work hard.

Yeah. But when it makes you work hard to get the approval of your husband who wants you to have an exorcism, maybe you need to tap the breaks…

But also, you sort of ended up having one, although not at his behest. You write about doing this thing called the Kaya Kalpa, which you call “the Mt. Everest of Ayurvedic treatments,” and it helped you expel some of the grief you’d been carrying after your mother’s death. That was wild.

It was wild, and I’m not one of those people who has amazing spiritual experiences all the time, or has out of body experiences, or feels very in touch with the other world. It was absolutely crazy. The part that, in a way, makes it empirically unbelievable is when my hands froze. I mean nothing like that has ever happened to me before or since.

That experience included, you’re very open in the book. Like super open.

Like gaping, right? And you know what’s funny? My husband hasn’t read it yet.

Why did you want to be so open? You share the problems of your first marriage, your struggles with an eating disorder, fertility issues…

I am open in the book, but believe it or not, what I did choose to share is curated. Any responsible essayist or memoir writer who’s writing about herself is not just saying, “Here’s what happened” and opening up her diary. There needs to be consideration of other peoples’ feelings. There needs to be a sense — and I credit my editor with this — of yourself as a main character, and hopefully a heroine that people can relate to, or at least feel sorry for. So while yes, I was very open, I didn’t share it all.

Why hasn’t your husband read it yet? He hasn’t even read drafts?

No. I think he read a couple of chapters. He read one chapter, and an iteration of another chapter that changed many times. He is a chief strategy officer at a company, so he has very organized thoughts, and he gave me a bullet-point list of why he hadn’t read it, and I could understand some of it. One was that it is painful for him to read about very tough things that happened to me in the past. It gives him no pleasure to know how unhappy I was in my first marriage. And secondly, because he hasn’t read the book, I think he might be under the impression that it’s teeming with stories of sex, when it’s really not. 

I’m astonished at how supportive he’s been, knowing full well that I’ve written about our lives and not wanting to micromanage or edit me at all. A hallmark of his, well, faith in me. I do know he will read it on his own time. After all, it’s an implicit love letter to him.

What did you learn about yourself throughout your writing process?

It sounds self-congratulatory to say I learned that I’m resilient, [but] I came to an appreciation of how my young, pathetic self was really resilient. There’s this great Winston Churchill quotation that says, “Success is jumping from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” By that definition, I must be wildly successful! But I guess my hesitation in saying I’m so resilient is I’m not Cheryl Strayed. I didn’t walk up and down the West Coast with no shoes on, and I wasn’t a heroin addict…

There’s a bit of a reluctance on my part to promote myself as any kind of hero, because the things I’ve had to overcome in my life are not the deepest, darkest things. Although I will say, losing one’s mother at any age, but particularly at a young age, losing babies at any age, and losing jobs, having a marriage fail… I think those are things that most people can relate to, just as I think that people, if they’re honest, can relate to how human it feels to seek validation, and how good it feels to get it.

You touch on this at the end, but did you eventually find that seeking approval is a good thing?

Yeah. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think our need for approval is fundamental, and I think it’s human. So when we try to transcend our hunger for it, or pretend that we don’t care, we’re actually doing ourselves a disservice, because our need for approval is such a strong energy that if we can acknowledge it and embrace it and harness it, and use it for good — meaning for seeking our own approval, and seeking the approval of people I work for and with, because they’re really f—ing smart. They’re great. If I’m on a show with an amazing producer, and my producer at, say, Sunday Morning tells me he thought I did a great piece, well that feels great! I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t. Or I marry a man whom I admire and respect: When he gives me a compliment, it feels really good.

And then of course, seeking it from myself. I’ll never get complacent. I am my own toughest critic. So it’s learning about from whom to seek approval and why, and not letting just a generally wantonly needy energy lead you down the wrong path to caring too much about how you look, or what people who probably shouldn’t matter think of you.

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