The Permission Gap


I realized I sought permission to stop doing the things that made me unhappy, but I also sought out permission to do the things that could actually make me happy! Isn’t that weird?

I came across this NYT article (recommend reading it) that had me thinking about this idea of “The Permission Gap” which is loosely the distance between the things we do and the things we actually want to do.

While I had already grappled with a lot of the big ideas the article discussed, it brought up some new ideas that I hadn’t addressed before. So here’s my take on seeking permission for the big things, seeking permission on the little things, and why should we seek permission at all (be it from others or ourselves).

Seeking Permission for the Big Things

As humans, we crave validation for the choices we make. In essence, we need someone else’s permission to do the “big things” because what right do we have to pursue the dream, challenge the status quo, and be a little different? (Spoiler alert: we have every right)

The first thing I started asking myself when I wanted to make radically life altering decisions (hint: sarcasm. I’ve learned that nothing I ever do is as scary as it seems) is why am I so uncomfortable doing what I actually want to do?

  1. I needed someone else to tell me it was going to be okay.
  2. I needed support for my choices so I knew I wasn’t totally crazy.
  3. I wanted someone to stop me because it was easier not to jump.

More often than not, if the person who you’re seeking validation from hasn’t done exactly what you’re planning on doing, they really don’t know if it’ll be okay or not. However, if you’re smart, you hedge your major risks, then it really is going to be okayI’ve done some crazy shit, I’m still alive and I’m really not that smart.

Accept the crazy. Life is more fun that way.

“The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”-Steve Jobs, Overlord of Apple

I struggled with wanting people to stop me because it’s so much easier to ride the wave than go against it. A lot of the time, the worry was in my head. My solution was writing out everything I thought could go wrong and seeing how ridiculous I was beingMy worries, when broken down, were small, and they had doable solutions.

Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Break down the ‘whole’ fear to its ‘parts’. Suddenly, the fear loses its power.

Additionally, I think it’s important to realize that people aren’t always going to give you the validation you crave. That’s okay. More importantly, that shouldn’t stop you. By taking a thought-out, logical approach such as addressing all your fears or just saying fuck it and going head first, as long as you understand your why, that’s the only validation you should need.

Seeking Permission for the Little Things

I thought I was pretty cool having taken a “I’m going to do me and screw you haters” approach to life. I still think I’m pretty cool. However, while I don’t seek permission for the big things anymore, I realized that I still need help with the little things.

It’s easier to address the big things because the fear can be broken down to smaller problems that have simpler solutions. The same can’t always be said for the little things.

The little things are easier to brush underneath the rug, think it’s not a big deal, and admit it’s not a problem until it becomes one.

At my current job, I realize I look for permission to speak up about an idea, push back on a concept, or remind my co-workers how to create an inclusive environment. More so, they create an environment where I can do all of those things without their permission; I’m the one that still seeks permission.

My first step to giving myself permission is awareness. Through writing, I’ve become much more aware of where I hold myself back. As a result, now I can push myself forward. Then it’s just a matter of writing out the solutions to my problems, having the conversations with the people I used to seek permission from, and giving myself the permission to just do.

What do you know. That wasn’t so hard. Easier written than done. But we’re on the right track.

Why do we need permission in the first place?

I’m curious as to why we feel the need to seek permission to do the things we want to do. I’m a big advocate for living a life for ourselves. We’re the ones living our life so why should we do anything less than what we actually want to do? Permission seeking is just another mental barrier we put up to not do what we want.

Just do it! SERIOUSLY! Chances are, you’re never going to get permission from someone else. And if you’re not getting permission from someone else, there’s an even higher chance you won’t give yourself the permission you need because there’s no external validation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still victim. And sometimes, it’s not easy just doing something you want to. I wish it was that easy. But there’s a handy quote I look to:

“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”-Grace Hopper

Just another way of saying the same thing; sometimes you just have to go for it and deal with the consequences after.

And if you still need permission, just ask me. To quote the NYT article,

“I hereby proclaim myself the president of permission granting. And by all of the power vested in me, I grant everyone who reads this [post] the permission to do that thing. Whatever it is, you now have permission to do it.” -Carl Richards