I met a young man who always talked with his head tilted a bit sideways, because somebody once told him he had the profile of a famous actor. Most people didn't think he had an actor's profile; they thought he had a screw loose.
This is what happens when making an impression on others determine our actions. It's human nature to seek recognition for our achievements. Whatever we're proud of, we want others to know about it, too. Next time you're in a conversation, see how long it takes the other person (and yourself!) to start mentioning personal accomplishments.
Why are we so eager to impress people? Humans are hungry for meaning. But sometimes we don't reach the level we ought to. So we need to compensate with an artificial boost from others.
If people say that you're great, you can become convinced. A movie star who believes his fan mail is in trouble. Because he's built a house of cards. And when he falls, he'll fall hard.
Chasing after honor is a sign that you don't sufficiently respect yourself. It's like saying, "I might not amount to much, but if I can make others think I do, then I'm worth something." But it's not true. It's chasing "fool's gold" – yellow and glittery, but worthless. Deep down you feel like a fraud.
Way #36 is mit'rahek min hakavod – literally "keep far from honor." It teaches us not to look to others for recognition, but to find it within ourselves. Figure out what you think is meaningful in life, and use that to drive you to greatness. People who are satisfied with themselves don't need public recognition to reassure their worth.
This is a classic body-soul conflict. The body is happy with the illusion that others think we're important. But the soul looks for what is truly meaningful. The body says: "Let's be important for the moment." The soul says: "Let's make it real." The body balks at the challenges involved. The soul knows the right thing to do.
Be Free of Opinions
If you depend upon the opinions of others to determine how good you are, then you become like a leaf in the wind, fluttering in whichever direction the fads of the time blow you.
If you have confidence in your own worth, you'll be better able to follow opinions that are your own and not society's.
God calls the Jews a "stiff-necked people." Being stiff-necked is both good and bad. It's bad because you are stubborn and unwilling to change. But it's good because in the face of fads and trends, you stick to your guns. If the Jewish people were not stiff-necked, we'd never have survived till today.
We all want success and greatness, and we should seek it. But don't live for others. Don't base your career choice, lifestyle or even leisure time solely on what gives you status. If you want to be great, then do something great. Not because it will earn you respect in the eyes of others, but because you want to live a meaningful life and fulfill your potential – regardless of the attention it will draw.
Don't worry. When you follow the straight path, even though others might initially reject you, you can go to sleep knowing that your conscience in clear – and knowing that in the end, truth will prevail.
Examine Your Motives
Make sure that your choices are what's best for you, not based on impressing others. Always ask yourself: "What is my real motive?" For example, if you're planning a European vacation, is it because you really want to visit Europe? Or because you hope to impress everyone with new tales of adventure?
Here are some exercises you can do:
- Make a list of what people typically seek admiration for – wealth, strength, skills, education, intelligence, career, health, athletics. Are there other, more important things that should be on this list?
- Make a list of things you do to impress others. What is it about these that make you feel so important?
- Ask yourself why you feel the need to impress other people. What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?
Are You Impressed?
Some people are constantly boasting about their achievements, crying out: "Take notice. I am somebody!"
Judaism says that anyone who does a good deed and boasts about it, loses the reward for that deed. Suppose you find out about a widow and her children who have barely enough to eat. So you bring them food, provide support, and set them on the road to financial independence. The moment you start boasting about it, you've taken a beautiful act, and used it for self-aggrandizement.
People are suspicious of those desperate for recognition. That's why honor is one of those strange things that the more you run after it, the less you get.
Judaism says that when you do a good deed, the only ones who need to know about it are you and God. Do kindness anonymously. Don't worry. God will find a way to make sure you're amply rewarded.
Cast in the Role
One of the most destructive ways of trying to impress others is by role-playing. We act out characters that we think others will like. Did you ever notice how your personality can change in the presence of different people? To those at the health club, we appear athletic. To our friends, we are fun. To our boss, we are serious. We may go through 10 or 20 roles per day!
Take a look at the different ways you project yourself, and try to describe them. You might even find yourself playing a variety of contradictory roles. This is dangerous, because by casually switching roles, we can lose sight of who we really are.
Beware of media pressure to conform to a certain model. Imagine the subconscious desire to be the Marlboro Man! Get in touch and decide who you really want to be. Ask yourself: "What role am I playing? Is that really who I want to be?"
Who is the real you?
The capacity for role-playing has a positive side: it can draw out potential that we may not otherwise access. Because when we act outwardly in a positive manner, it awakens our inner selves.
Choose a role that would be good for you, and let it start affecting your daily behavior. Let's say you want to become genuinely happy. So start playing the role of the cheerful, smiling, friendly person who likes being with people. Acting the part will train the body to become attuned – and the person you are "playing" eventually becomes the real you!
Perhaps you'll ask: Is there any difference between deceiving others and deceiving yourself? The answer is that role-playing to bring out potential is a positive exercise, while role-playing to bring out compliments is not. The litmus test is when trying to deceive others, you'll end up feeling rotten afterwards. But if you're acting in order to improve your character, you'll end up feeling better about yourself.
One more positive application of role-playing: Strategize how to act in advance of a challenging situation. For example, if you're going to deliver a speech in public, practice in front of the mirror to get it just right. Or, if you tend to argue with your boss, role-play on how to diffuse the tension. It will save you and others a lot of suffering.
Why is "Handling Social Pressure" a Way to Wisdom?
- Don't get trapped in the obsessive need for recognition.
- Seeking the approval of others harms you, because it keeps you from the real work of becoming great.
- If you need others to verify your significance, it's time to examine your self-esteem.
- When you act to impress others, you feel the emptiness inside.
- Ask yourself: Given the choice, would I rather be famous-and-miserable, or satisfied-and-unknown?
- When you get the urge to toot your own horn, ask yourself: Who am I trying to impress?
- Even if you convince people that you're the greatest person in the world, have you convinced yourself?