Bright morning sun pours in through large windows, coating freshly-laundered uniforms and eager young faces of cross-legged kids sat expectantly on a large blue mat.
And sitting above them all, with God-like power, is their teacher, magic in her hands. She is armed and dangerous, with a whole sheet of shiny gold stars and a licence to use them.
Of all the addictions I’ve endured over the years, the need for approval sunk its ruinous claws much earlier than most.
I coveted those damn stars. Not just gold, but ruby red, sapphire blue, and brilliant shiny green. I craved them all, like junkies dream of smack singing through their veins.
Just one of them stuck to my forehead by that nail-polished finger of my softly-smiling teacher was relief in its most pure form: I was good, after all. Someone was proud of me. I was accepted.
Two stars was an infrequent but amazing occurrence. On those days I felt them burning against my skin; two supernovas of pride steaming off me as I lorded it silently and secretly over the other kids, hoping my face wasn’t as red as it felt. I was better than them. Smarter. More likeable. I almost felt like some kind of leader.
Rarely — very rarely — my careful colouring, perfect spelling, and self-servingly obvious assistance to other kids meant I somehow snaffled three of them, my forehead glittering in Kingly Glory and my veins surging with unthinkable euphoria.
My seven year-old brain wasn’t yet familiar with dopamine. But as I sat there at my desk, I knew I’d climbed some secret, social Everest of achievement.
I was sated, at least for a few glorious moments, before soon scheming on how to get even more gold stars, stealing glances at those hypnotic treasures glinting like tiny jewels in the morning sun. Talk about Pavlov.
And if I’m honest, the lesson of those shiny stars has never quite left my mind; I still subconsciously measure all my successes by their exactingly sticky benchmark.
Please Love Me
Of all the addictions we decry in society, the least talked about is our need for unending validation.
It’s been the hardest lesson yet for me to learn.
Fiending after the constant approval of others is like trying to nail smoke to a wall, yet the futility of it never seems to stop us mainlining this most nebulous and changeable of narcotics; perversely, it just makes it all the more alluring.
‘Cos we’re junkies, all, skating fingers across screens and trackpads, uploading airbrushed pictures and posting virtue-signalling status updates everywhere we can, all of us desperately chasing approval every digital day of our unconscious lives, trudging hopeful and industrious through mental labyrinths built by impassive, controlling, and heart-blocked parents — our very own Minotaurs — who, in their replicable pain, found themselves unwilling or unable to provide a loving affirmation of our own magnificence.
We are traumatized kids who hunger for the love we didn’t get.
And finding it when you don’t have it is really f*cking scary.
And just like methadone in place of heroin, gold stars are often seen as ‘close enough’.
Only now, the internet is the classroom. Only now, the teacher is a smiling algorithm, yet with no warmth or empathy, only a glittering retinue of digital stars so vast it rivals the night sky.
We need only scroll down the vast array of social media timelines — Medium included — to see those parents’ ghosts; those scared little kids’ best efforts at nabbing a star: carefully crafted avatars grinning, plucked, stretched, and gleaming, like waxed apples in preening piles. Pick me, Pick me.
What are we selling?
And equally, what are we buying into?
This disempowering blueprint of sublimating our yearning into a fakely-superior, violently-scrubbed version of ourselves and then feeding on the adulation is leading us deeper into inadequacy, depression, and shame. Because even if you get that fleeting approval, it’s Never. Ever. Enough.
You can be The Divine Goddess — doe-eyed, lithe, and photoshop-mystical, or the guy with his gleaming muscle-car for his profile pic, or even a philosophising Instagram voyager, stroking your scant beard and musing about your uniqueness from the windswept plains of Absurdistan. But it’s all such inescapably empty nonsense. It’s a preening hologram and not even the tiniest scintilla of it will act as nourishment for the child inside of you that just wants to be truly, vulnerably, loved.
It’s not even about validation! It’s about the illusion peddled so incessantly by social media giants and their traumatised acolytes that anyone but You is capable of replenishing your self-worth.
How could they when they’re trapped inside the same damn maze?
Yet we fall for it again and again, diving back in like blind rats seeking the redemption rumoured to be glowing so tantalisingly at its centre.
But it has no centre. It’s a darkly-glowing glass onion. A Minotaur hungry for your saleable insecurities. A scrolling Black Mirror that reflects only smiling lies.
In short, it’s a trap. A colossal f*cking waste of your spellbinding potential.
‘Cos you won’t find your treasure inside the labyrinth, Human.
You find it inside of You.
You have already been validated and approved. For you are Here, aren’t you? You don’t need filling or flattering. You don’t need to boost your post because You are already Whole. You are already Love.
You are more Powerful, more Magnificent, than any tweet, profile pic, status update, or carefully-crafted lie in the damn Universe.
With Vulnerability, Non-Bullshit, and Love,