One of our most basic human desires is to feel loved and appreciated. When we are young, we seek out this feeling of approval from our caregivers and families. Later, we try to dazzle our peers, our teachers, and our friends. This desire is natural; it’s all a part of our primal yearning to belong, to be accepted as part of the group. As adults, we all seek approval on some level, be it from our employers or our in-laws. However, without awareness, this desire can become intense enough to disrupt our relationships with others and stand in the way of our spiritual growth and transformation.
The desire for recognition and approval pops up in the classroom, in the workplace, at parties—basically anyplace we interact with others whom we want to impress. It’s hard to truly know how often we fall into this trap since we usually seek approval without even realizing it. The next time you are at a work meeting or mingling with acquaintances, pay attention. Are you finishing other people’s sentences? Do you miss key pieces of information because you’re thinking about what to say next? Do you find yourself agreeing with others and later wonder why?
The problem with approval seeking is two-fold. First, when our immediate impulse is to impress others or stand in their good graces, we can unknowingly act or speak against our core values and beliefs, misrepresenting ourselves. Second, when we are preoccupied with what others think about us, we are not truly listening to them.
“When we seek approval,” says Michael Berg, “we are all too likely to lose our connection to the Light of the Creator, which is ironically, the source of all our talents. Approval can be dangerously seductive to even the most spiritually elevated among us.” Every interaction we have in the world is a chance to share or receive Light. In order for this exchange to take place, we must stay open and listen. When we worry about what others think of us or wonder whether we’ve impressed them, we are unable to be open channels of the Light.
It is said a man once approached King David and declared, “You told me if I stopped running after respect and honor, and simply act with integrity and honesty, then eventually respect and honor would find me. Well, I’ve done that and nothing has changed. Now I’m at the end of my life and still toiling away with no great honors to speak of.”
King David replied, “While you were running away from honor, how many times did you look over your shoulder to see how far it was behind you?”
You have the power to find fulfillment within. Spiritual work leads to self-appreciation—not simply for the things we do well, but for the ways we fail and resolve to do better. When we are less focused on impressing others and more intent on connecting to the Creator, we begin to feel more fulfilled and less eager to gain temporary satisfaction in the approval of others. “We do not want to look outside of ourselves,” says Rav Berg, “but rather need to prepare our vessel, through all our efforts, to receive. Preparing our vessel does not come simply; it is done solely by working through our difficulties and overcoming our challenges…The thing you desire may not be part of your paradigm in life, and when something does not come to us, it is because we have not built up our vessel to receive it.”
Everything you need is found by connecting to the Light of the Creator. Embrace opportunities to share, learn from others, and you will grow as a person. Instead of planning the perfect response, try to really listen to what others have to say. Take time to connect when you meet someone new; look them in the eyes and smile. Your sincerity will do far more to impress others than you could accomplish by a witty or smart remark.
Stay faithful to your beliefs. Being the lone voice of protest is especially difficult. It’s much easier to keep quiet or agreeable for the sake of being liked. Yet, we share more Light when we act in accordance to our values and let go of the need to please others.