As life goes on, I find that I continue to place an increased emphasis on self-satisfaction than I do on earning the approval of others. I started life completely on the other end of the spectrum and as I spend more time with teenagers I am reminded that the same is true for so many of us. Throughout my school years, I cared less about what I learned and how I felt about my personal abilities than I did gaining the approval of my teachers, coaches, and parents. As a young Naval Officer, I was fixated on achieving my qualifications, pleasing my seniors, gaining the trust of my juniors, and earning the respect of my peers. Again, the focus was on doing what others expected me to do without much regard for what it was I wanted to do. I am comfortable admitting that my original wiring was to be a Pleaser. The path to feeling good about myself was through earning the approval of others. Truth be told, in many ways, I remain a Pleaser, but I am increasingly discriminant about who it is I set out to please.

Sounds self-indulgent and it might actually be, but there was a pivot in my late 20s where I became far less concerned with earning the approval of others than I was my self-satisfaction. Rather than look to others to see if I was doing well before giving myself permission to feel validated, I became the judge of a job well-done. It was at this point that I finally learned that if I executed my responsibilities in a way that made me personally proud, the approval of others, provided they were even watching, was more of a byproduct. And even if I was the only one pleased by the execution of my intent, I was OK with that. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the teachings of Coach John Wooden and in particular his philosophy about the correlation between success, peace of mind, and self-satisfaction that I could communicate why the approval of others was no longer the primary consideration of mine.

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Coach John Wooden

Some of us go through our entire lives looking to others for approval and when we don’t get it, things sting a bit. At some point in life, we must realize that we get to decide if our work is good and that we are responsible for our own self-satisfaction. There are things that we all do that will not result in any applause from those watching and that’s more than OK. The applause and the approval ought not to be why we do things. They may be what motivate us in our younger years as we gain the confidence to chart our own course, but if we become addicted to them we will continue to live the life others want us to in favor of a life uniquely our own.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel especially good when something I do gives someone I care about a reason to smile and especially bad when I disappoint someone who’s opinion I care deeply about. But if I can look myself in the mirror and assess that I made the effort to do my best and that my actions were aligned with my intent, then I deserve to give myself that peace of mind. We all do. I don’t mean to dismiss the opinions of others in any way, they matter. Many times more than they know and at times more than they should. We all need approval. More than that, we all need to earn our own approval. And if in our heart of hearts we earn our own approval without gaining the approval of others, we need to be OK with that. Likewise, when others approve of us and we know we didn’t earn it, we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook. Nirvana is when the person in the mirror is smiling back at you AND the people who you care about are doing the same.

  • How do you define success?
  • Whose approval do you care most about?
  • How addicted are you to the applause of those around you?