Do You Crave Approval and Acclaim and Applause? Be Aware of the Downside …
The clients I coach are manifestly smart and successful and many of my former students have MBAs from top business schools, but they all frequently make the same mistake.
Quite possibly you also do this.
Consider Ralph, a dynamic up and coming executive who was striving to become CEO of his firm.
“I did it,” Ralph told me excitedly, “I blew it clean out of the water.”
He was referring to the results of the latest 360 degree evaluations his company required. Ten people had participated and every one – peers, bosses, subordinates – had rated him 9 or better on a ten point scale.
He was beside himself and mentally already occupying the big corner office.
“You are excited,” I observed.
“You bet I am,” he chortled. “These are the smartest cookies in the business and they think I am the best.”
A month later disaster struck.
Ralph had been spearheading a major project to shift a big chunk of manufacturing to South Asia.
The partner had been picked. The contracts signed. The deal was done.
But it turned out the deal was not done. A competitor had, somehow, convinced the partner to come on board with them. Ralph suspected chicanery and outright under-the-table payments to select decision makers.
He tried hard to get his prospective partner to stick to the agreements already made. He failed.
Lawsuits were certainly ahead but they would take years to grind their way though courts in multiple jurisdictions and the outcomes were unpredictable.
Ralph was let go. There was a ‘going away’ party to celebrate his departure to ‘spend more time with his family’ which was the fiction put out by the company and it was on his resignation letter.
The party was sparsely attended and the CEO did not attend and everyone knew what really happened. What irked Ralph the most was that some of those who had given him 9s on his 360 were also the ones who greased the skids for his departure.
“You seem upset?” I inquired.
“Traitors.” He said bitterly and viciously. He was all broken up internally and only his strong sense of male pride was preventing the tears from gushing out.
On the surface this is one more tale of corporate skullduggery and the rise and fall of a promising executive and there are so many such that they don’t merit much attention.
But Ralph’s problems were entirely his creation.
I don’t mean his rise or his fall. That was fate, or kismat, or bad luck or whatever you choose to call it. I am referring to his inner landscape, the roller coaster that finally left him dejected and forlorn.
Try not to get on that roller coaster because it will, without fail, take you to the same place.
Do you get elated when your boss tells you that the report you handed in was a superior piece of work? Do you feel good when your colleague tells you that your shirt looks nice and suits you? Do you feel a quiet sense of pride when a total stranger admires your new car?
Of course you do. Everyone does. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this, is there?
No, there is nothing wrong. Not yet. But recognize that each time you ‘feel good’ because someone praises you or what you have done or what you own, you are giving that person a little bit of power over you. That person partially determines the emotional domain in which you dwell.
And then you go to the next step.
You begin to alter your behavior so you get more of these nods of appreciation. You buy clothes that others will notice and admire. You change your mental models to accommodate those from whom you wish to receive acknowledgment and applause.
And this is how you build the prison that you then call ‘home.’
This is how you give your power away.
This is how you give the keys to your well being and happiness to others.
Why, O Why, would you ever do this?
He was a respected sage, a teacher of many generations of students. No one could match him in knowledge of philosophy and the sacred texts. He lived simply with his family in the remote countryside.
One of his students, who had achieved great fame and renown in
the court of the king, came to visit him. As he paid his respects he noted the threadbare clothes of his teacher and the sparse larder.
“Revered Sir,” he said, overcome with emotion, “Please come with me to the capital. The king will shower you with wealth
because there is no one to match you in wisdom. All you have to do is praise His Majesty and you will no longer have to subsist on lentils.”
Tears rolled down the old preceptor’s face. “My son,” said the sage, “Is this all you have learnt in the years you spent with me? Do you not see that if you would learn to subsist on lentils, you would not have to praise His Majesty?”
There are many ramifications to what I have shared with you.
Rudyard Kipling , the unabashed colonial, articulated a sentiment that I whole heartedly endorse. It is from his poem “If.”
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
So walk your path on this day so that your sense of fulfillment comes from your certitude in your actions. By all means look at the reactions of others but do this simply as a gauge of where you are what further actions to take. Do not let those reactions affect your emotional equanimity.
This is easily said. It is not easily done because you have a lifetime of conditioning against it.
But you can get there. You just have to try and try again. And then try again.