“Care about other people’s approval, and you will always be their prisoner” – Lao Tzu
“Be who you are, and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle
Approval, The Prison
When you constantly seek the approval of others, you give away your POWER. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, you will always be a prisoner. Your master will be those whose approval you seek. When you give your power away, you also give away your freedom. Life becomes a prison.
For many years, I constantly craved the approval of my peers, friends, family members, colleagues, and supervisors. I am going to assume, that you too, can strongly relate, because according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love and belonging is an instictive attribute of being human . We naturally crave the approval of others.
After much reflection, I can honestly and shamefully conclude that most of my thought life AND RESULTING ACTIONS during my teenage years, and even into my early and mid 20’s, was somehow, in one way or another, connected to desperately wanting the approval of other people. I needed people to accept me, even if it meant sacrificing my personality, ethics, dreams, and goals.
I can clearly remember dressing differently, talking differently, and acting differently, all to impress and “win” the affection and approval of others. Approval is also often why teenagers begin experimenting with sex, drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol; and also why others develop shopping addictions, waste hours and hours of valuable time desperately seeking “likes” and followers on social media, and drive cars and live in houses they can’t afford.
Wouldn’t it make sense then not to care? If approval seeking is negative, not caring must be positive. Right? Not so fast…
Are You Saying Not To Care At All?
However, as I have matured, I have realized more than ever, the opinions of others really don’t matter to my overall sense of happiness, worth, and purpose. Actually, let me correct that… the opinions of most people don’t matter.
In order to have close, connected relationships and friendships in your life, it will be necessary to care what SOME people think – those in your inner circle. When you completely disregard the opinions of all people, however, you will become disconnected, without any real meaningful relationships. After all, you are human, and belonging is essential to your happiness.
In her book, Dare to Lead, author Brene Brown suggests that you should be able to write all of the names of people whose thoughts and opinions TRULY MATTER to you on a 1 x 1 inch piece of paper. Why 1 x 1 inch? Because, most likely, it will require you to do some editing and eliminating, maybe in some cases, some adding. You are to fill the tiny paper.
I challenge you to do this exercise NOW!
Grab Your Freedom! It’s Waiting…
My 1 x 1 paper has only the names of people who I know will love me unconditionally. That is, I don’t need their approval anyway, because they will accept me for who I am. I don’t need fancy clothes, a nice car, a big house, or a certain personality. I can rest and live happily and CONFIDENTLY knowing that I am accepted and loved for being me. After many years, I have escaped my prison of approval – and just like any prisoner, I have no desire to return to jail. It is only when I have total freedom, can I truly experience what it is like to live.
Are you seeking the approval of too many people? Do you feel trapped? Then I challenge you to only focus on the names that you have written on your 1 x 1 inch square – even if the square only has one name on it. Life is not about quantity, LIFE IS ABOUT QUALITY…even if instagram has taught you different.
When people not on your square put you down, ridicule you, and/or senselessly judge you, go back to your square and remember those who truly matter. Most of the people that I tried to impress fifteen and twenty years ago are no longer a part of my life anyway. They were only minor characters in the story of my life. You will learn that most cannot and will not join you on your journey. Get rid of the dead weight now. They never mattered anyway.
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- My book, “Seeds of Excellence for Teens: 24 Life Principles For Those Who Want to Stand Out From The Crowd“, is available on Amazon.