On Seeking Approval

Note to my future self…

I think that today we, as a society, have a hard time admitting that a lot of what we seek in life is the approval of others. For some reason it feels wrong. We are supposed to be independent thinkers that strive to look inwards for direction and meaning.

However, I’ve always suspected that we’re doing a disservice to ourselves by not talking more about something that seems so obvious. Today while walking around the city I think I made a small breakthrough in terms of how I think about the issue of seeking approval.

If you think about it seeking the approval of others isn’t wrong as long as you’re seeking the approval of the right people. Therefore, It’s important to make a distinction between:

The approval of the masses vs the appreciation of a few.

Seeking the approval of the masses is, with rare exceptions, a self-defeating exercise because unless you have a high-order goal in mind (e.g. lead a nation) you will end up focusing your energy on serving the lowest-common denominator. If you do have a lofty goal in mind you will still have to cater to the lowest-common denominator but at least you will have a purpose for enduring this(:

Now what about seeking the appreciation of a few people?

This makes sense. Think about it. We’re social creatures and our behavior is almost entirely shaped by our interactions with others. Therefore, it makes sense that we look up to others to know if we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to.

Now, there’s probably a fine line between seeking the appreciation of your peers and obsessing about it. In other words, it’s important to understand were we stand in relation to everyone else (social ladder) but it’s also important to remember that we’re part of multiple social ladders and that all of them are in constant flux.

A tangential point to think about is this distinction between seeking:

Respect > Popularity.

I wonder how do these two relate to this idea of seeking the approval of the masses vs. peers. I think that it would be a mistake to jump too quickly to conclusion and map Popularity → Masses and Respect → Peers. The perception of popularity is something that can be sought in both large and small group settings. Same for respect.

I think that thinking about these respect and popularity as different types of approval that we seek adds an extra dimension worth considering. This might for another post but perhaps a 2×2 matrix where a specific quadrant shows the type of relationships that we should be optimizing for. Hmm yeah that will be for another time. That’s it for now.

Now back to work…