Winning approval from people who aren’t even born yet

Legacy is people pleasing for the afterlife.

If we’re so focused on making sure that people are still staying our name after we’re gone, then we’re not champion, we’re codependents.

If we’re so insecure about our own value that we need a pat on the back, a word of praise and a nod of approval from people who aren’t even born yet, then we are not living today.

And yet, legacy this the story we’ve been sold. Especially by financial planners, credit unions, estate planners and other professions of that ilk. All of their marketing materials sing from the same narcissistic hymnal.

How will you be remembered? What will future generations say about you? What will be the impact of your legacy one hundred years for now?

Easy answer. People will remember us as someone with a bottomless need for approval.

Truth is, preoccupying ourselves with our place in history is not a noble pursuit, it’s an ego trip.

Legacy is not a goal, it’s a burden. Killing ourselves for some intangible trophy that we won’t even be around to enjoy, spending our time considering the opinions of people who aren’t even born yet, it all sounds so exhausting and empty.

It doesn’t actually matter what the public’s affection for our life is in the distant future, it only matters what kind of impact our life has on that public today.

The distant future is irrelevant. Hell, for the majority of the people in this world, the mere concept of tomorrow is a luxury they can’t even afford.

And so, our goal should be to focus every bit of our energy on being the most loving and useful person, right now, in the present moment.

This is it, this is as good as it gets, this is the best day of my life.

Linklater summarizes it most eloquently in his best film:

There’s only one instant, and it’s right now. And it’s eternity.

Once we embrace that conception of time and space, our legacy is neither here nor there. There is no past to be remembered, and there is no future in which people will remember it.

Only right now.

Are you making the present moment into a monster to be defeated or escaped?

The call has to come from inside the house

Every one of us possesses an unquantifiable component of human value. There is no algorithm and there is no scoreboard.

Simply being alive is proof enough. It’s a choice we can make every day.

Instead of desperately treating approval as a scarce commodity, we can stand firm in our own worthiness.

Instead of living through our false persona to gain love from strangers, we can remove uncertainty about our value in this world by loving ourselves.

Instead of falling for the fool’s gold of getting everybody to give us the nod, we can trust our inner resources to tell us that we are already good enough.

Southpark wrote a provoking parody about this very issue. Butters makes a music video that goes viral, but in order to claim his money, he must wait in line behind other internet video sensations.

But then, in an argument over who is more famous, most of those celebrities them kill each other. The boy advances in line, and he receives ten million theoretical dollars, which are printed on clear plastic checks with no monetary value.

How much approval would you have to accumulate to make that kind of fake money?

It’s a satirical reminder that we don’t need to wait for some governing body to bestow approval upon us. That call comes from inside the house.

Besides, even if all of our approval seeking did pan out, it’s not like we can cash in all our social currency for legal tender.

Perhaps the approval of every person in the entire world doesn’t need to be the goal of your work. It’s true, demanding that you are anointed by other people probably has its evolutionary advantages.

But choosing personal integrity over publicly sanctioned success is way less labor intensive. 

Somov reminds us in his book that the paradox of approval seeking is, our very attempt to prove our worth and value means that we feel our worth and value can be proven.

The call has to come from inside the house.

Would your fulfillment increase if you were driven by worthiness rather than approval?

Disqualifying has officially become our national pastime

People put their romantic projections on everything from relationships to careers to life in general.

Now that we live in a world of infinite choice, if we don’t get exactly what we want every time, we peace out and move on.

But this romanticism is not based on any kind of reality. Romanticism may be superb for idealizing what we think things should be, but it sucks at taking into account the fact that everything evolves into what it actually is.

In fact, living in what psychologists call the technosexual era has heightened this trend dramatically. Single people are being asked to judge potential mates by simply swiping right if they like them or swiping left if they don’t.

Which is a cheap high when you’re lonely and horny. The problem is, this new behavior is turning us all into becoming professional disqualifiers. Constantly quantifying the attributes of everyone and everything we encounter, putting our requirements on life, updating our growing lists of deal breakers, congratulating ourselves on our high standards, it almost seems like disqualifying has officially become our national pastime.

And the sad part is, it’s mostly making people shallow, dissatisfied and lonely. It’s leading to the demise of flexibility, curiosity, patience and compromise, all of which are pillars of finding fulfilling work and love.

Ruotola’s poignant book on modern dating argues that the danger in setting parameters to determine someone’s worth or viability as a romantic partner is that it assumes that they don’t have other areas of value that could possibly be more appealing than the ideas or wants that they have.

And in our quest to romanticize and quantify everyone and everything, whether it’s the perfect partner, the perfect workout, or the perfect job, we miss out. We assume that there aren’t other areas of value that could possibly be more appealing than the ideas or wants we already have.

The point here is, if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, pick something that’s good enough and wait a while. Because everything is changing all the time anyway. Including yourself. Especially yourself. And you never know how people and circumstances might evolve to satisfy needs and wants you didn’t realize you had.

This adventure of discovery is far more rewarding than sitting alone, disqualifying everything that fails to meet your grand romantic ambitions. 

Are you losing out to someone else who is more flexible while you stay protected but lonely?

No strings attached except the ones you choose to tie

Koontz makes the point in his spooky bestselling novel that trees are so majestic, so noble. They give and give to us, fruit, nuts, beauty, shade, lumber, oxygen, and take nothing in return.

What a lovely example of nature’s generosity.

Because trees don’t keep score, save for the rings in their trunks. They don’t get all cagey and chintzy when people seek their gifts. Abundance flows freely in all directions.

Meanwhile, humans withhold ourselves from the joy of giving all the time.

Neuroscientists have actually conducted multiple studies which found the ways that our brains actually rein in our generous tendencies. One researcher in particular showed that certain parts of our prefrontal cortex act to inhibit our inherent tendency to behave in ways that benefit others.

This response acts as a general stinginess signal, so to speak. And from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. The human brain has evolved to puts limits on our giving out of the primal fear that we might deprive ourselves of the basic resources we need to survive.

If we offer our wooly mammoth coat our friend in the cave next door, then we will surely freeze into a slab of ice.

But with the exception of a few public figures, we are no longer caveman. We live in a world with public sanitation and free wifi and gluten free chocolate covered crickets. Suffice it to say, we can afford to be generous. The grip of scarcity no longer has to grip our primitive hearts.

Each of us can be like the trees, giving of ourselves abundantly, taking nothing in return, grateful for the chance to share our gifts.

Our ego will definitely have a hard time accepting this behavior. But the truth is, it’s less work than we think. Generosity, like most virtuous behavior, is less about time and labor and more about attention and intention.

Adrienne puts it best her book about emergent strategy:

Our existence, who and how we are, is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around us. And our quality of life and our survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between us and the people and place we live with and in.

Next time your caveman brain tries to stop you from being generous, remind yourself that the forest will provide.There’s always more where that came from. 

Have you considered the sweet relief of setting aside your scorecard?

Playing the game to wait out the world

Nothing is more powerful than our willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.

It’s that rare combination of patience and faith. If we’re willing to follow our inner guide, even if we look like an idiot and risk alienating those who don’t get the joke yet, it’s amazing what kind of magic we can ultimately create.

At my first few agency jobs, getting executive and team buy in on my ideas always felt like an uphill battle. My coworkers and bosses weren’t interested in the strategy of knowledge management as an internal and external competitive advantage.

Hang on, you want to write what? And how exactly will that impact our revenue or retention?

It was frustrating, exhausting and made me feel apathetic and oftentimes foolish. Like at one particular job, it took our team nine months to finish the wireframes for our new blog design, only to have that project shitcanned shortly thereafter. Never even saw the light of day.

Thanks guys, time well spent.

Sadly, that’s the nature of business. Many companies have a hard time in investing in things that take a long time to pay off. There is scant patience for anything that can’t be reduced to a number. If they don’t see immediate results, they’re likely to presume that what they’re doing isn’t working.

Which isn’t surprising. But then again, what if that company simply hasn’t stuck around long enough to figure it out? What if they have allowed mediocre ideas to usurp their focus because they have more immediate payoff?

Amazon’s very first shareholder letter comes to mind. Bezos wrote back in the late nineties how he believed that a fundamental measure of their success would value they created over the long term. And because of their emphasis on the long term, they would make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies.

A tenet of this framework is that they would continue to make investment decisions in light of long term market leadership considerations rather than short term profitability considerations or short term marketplace reactions.

Amazon, as the legend has it, consistently lost money for its first several years as a public company. But fast forward to today, and they’re pulling in nearly two billion a quarter. Their willingness to be misunderstood for nearly two decades paid off handsomely.

And this is why companies should hire people who are not only willing to initiate risky projects, but who are also willing to be misunderstood along the way. Executives should ask questions to find out and flag individuals who have a deep capacity for delayed gratification.

Because those are the ones who are willing to play the long arc game, wait out the world and do something amazing. Don’t let them tell you any different.

Your greatest competitive advantage is the willingness to stick around long enough to figure it out. You might find yourself feeling undervalued. You might notice others growing weary of the tedium of your persistence. And you might have to accommodate the incessant doubt that comes with the territory.

But then again, you might also be right.

Will you still be around when the world is finally ready for you?

Why does this always happen to me?

Psychologists tell us that transcendence is a form of attention control.

It’s the capacity to see and think beyond the immediate stimuli.

And it doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring the immediate present, so much as seeing it in the context of more substantial concerns.

One way to accomplish this is to depersonalize. Like when a stranger says or does something that has a deeply negative impact on us. We remind ourselves that it’s not personal, it’s not our fault, and it’s not something that always happens to us.

This isolated incident was theirs, not ours. Whatever it is they did, they weren’t doing it to us, they were just doing it. Period.

That’s depersonalization. Divesting our interest in the story we tell about our own specialness, and getting on with our day.

Real estate agents are experts at the depersonalization process. Their version of transcendence is helping clients overcome the adversity of moving, an endeavor that has been clinically proven to be the next most stressful thing after a family member dying.  

How do they do it? Agents tell their home owners that in order to put their house on the market, job one is depersonalization. Everything from family photos to postcards to mounted animals to prized possessions should be removed from the premises.

Because no matter how much the buyer likes or dislikes those items, during the viewing they would still be paying attention to all the stuff, rather than looking at the home and trying to picture their own stuff there. The house has to become a blank canvas, otherwise the buyer won’t be able to superimpose their own life onto it.

This depersonalization, this capacity to see and think beyond the immediate stimuli, helps buyers see the house in the context of more substantial concerns. And that’s what enables transcendence.

What outcome have you been personalizing to your detriment? What moment have you been replaying inside your head for the past week that you’re still blaming yourself for?

Find a way to take yourself out of the equation. Get all those gorgeous framed photos off the walls.

Trust that it’s not being done to you, it’s just being done. 

What do you say to yourself to strengthen your internal locus of control?

Relying on anyone other than me sounds like a terrible idea

Being strong and independent is useful.

But extremes in anything accomplish nothing. When we carry our individuality too far, when we isolate and try to do everything alone all the time, it’s not only a terrible punishment we inflict on ourselves, but it’s also a slap in the face to the people who care about us.

Satisfying as it may be to say to ourselves, wow, relying on anyone other than me sounds like a terrible idea, it’s ultimately detrimental to us and those we love.

The mistake we make is thinking that our asking for help is going to be a burden on other people. Which may be true if we’re asking for a silver briefcase full of one million dollars in unmarked nonconsecutive twenty dollar bills.

But outside of extreme situations, it’s the opposite of a burden. It’s a gift.

My favorite college professor, on the last day of class before the final exam, cancelled his lesson plan. Instead, he gave us an inspiration speech about life lessons he had learned in his sixty plus years on this earth. The one that always stuck with me was this.

People who love you want you to call on them. If you give them the opportunity to help in your time of need, even if there’s not much they can do, they will feel a profound sense of gratitude, joy and connection in the process. Relying on them in your time of need isn’t a burden, it’s a gift.

Which sounds ironic, since you’re the one who needs the help. But something wonderful happens when people get together and trust each other.

To quote the great poet, we are lightened when our gifts rise from pools we cannot fathom. Then we know they are not a solitary egotism and they are inexhaustible.

Indeed, intimacy is hard when we’re so used to shutting down to protect ourselves.

But we’re really having trouble hanging in there, then we might trying hanging our whole weight upon someone else for a chance.

It’s more soothing than we realize.

Are you really compromising your sense of efficacy, or just getting some much needed help?

Must. Not. Stop. Seeing. How. High. You. Can. Fly.

When you’re an overly ambitious workaholic for whom career has become the only interest in your life, simple pleasures can seem tasteless.

When your entire identity is focused on traveling around the world pushing the envelope of achievement, coming home can make you feel like a visitor in your own town.

When there is an aching hole inside of you that even the most obsessive interest in work cannot fill, what little time off you have can scarcely be enjoyed.

Not exactly the most sustainable way of living.

Hornsby has an absolutely devastating song that comes to mind:

Sometimes it’s the right thing to cut the cord, you’ve been holding on hard, but your hands get sore, and sometimes it’s worth it, but sometimes you wonder what for.

Now there’s a question that never occurred to me. After all, when a workaholic has long since bought into the story that it’s all going to pay off, wondering if it’s all worth it a thought that’s off limit.

Must. Not. Stop. Seeing. How. High. You. Can. Fly.

It’s the funniest thing. We make these laws for ourselves by believing we’re blocked from leaving a particular world. But it’s just an artificial construct that’s too convenient to be killed.

We only believe the story because we’ve never given ourselves permission not to believe.

Sometimes we need to cut the cord, if only to show ourselves that we can be something else. 

Do you need to accept that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born?

Your inability to set limits on their control

How many people are able to successfully divert your time?

The answer to this question is quite indicative of the strength of your boundaries.

Because although everyone has people they answer to, whether it’s family, bosses, coworkers, or even the occasional loan shark, ultimately, your time is your own. You are the only person who truly values it. And depending on your discretionary use of that time, it’s either valuable or wasted.

Sadly, if allowing other people to successful divert and ultimately waste your time becomes a habit, resentment will build up like a fungus on your heart.

But that’s the beauty of setting boundaries, they allow us to know precisely where other people’s control begins and ends.

That’s why my number one question in all job interviews is about reasonable response time for communications:

Do executives send out emails at midnight and get upset when nobody responds? Are teams expected to be chatting over the weekend? How often do employees get early morning phone calls and text messages?

These questions are asked not only to suss out the company culture, but also to communicate my culture.

My employer is going to know from day one that my boundaries are no joke. Send late night emails to your heart’s desire, but don’t hold your breath for a response outside of normal business hours.

My first career enabled my workaholism and codependency enough, and it’s not going to happen again.

Are you putting very firm boundaries around the power that you have handed over to others to have that kind of control over you?

If not, that’s okay. But the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be to break loose the calcified layer of the controlling instinct.

Personally, I learned that if someone else was controlling my time and the emotions attached to it, they were not the problem, my inability to set limits on their control was.

Which people in your life don’t respect your time?

P.S. Prolific, my new software for Personal Creativity Management, has an entire category of tools for setting healthy boundaries. These tools were learned the hard way, battled test through my experience.

Is this moment just right, or is it going to kill me?

Some of us are neglecting to live the life that we have because we’re overly focused on the life we yearn for.

We simply want things to be other than they are.

And not that there is an inherent problem with wanting anything. The question is, at what point does our desire to attain hurt our ability to connect?

Louie once made a beautiful distinction during an interview about jealousy, telling his longtime friend the following:

It takes a good friend to stay with you in bad times, but it takes a good friend to stay with you in good times. Everybody needs support, and if you see me doing something and you have a hard time coming to terms with it because of your own life, you’re letting me down as a friend. You’re being a shitty friend by being jealous.

Which one of your relationships has been most tainted by envy? Is there someone whose life or career have you coveted and built resentment towards them as a result?

Personally, this was a habit that used to trip me up, but in an unusual way. It wasn’t the remarkable people who stirred my envy, it was the average ones. Which led to becoming jealous of other people for being happy about normal things being enough for them.

They were perfectly content with their very average lives, and some part of me resented the fact that my personality didn’t worked the same way.

The other thing about envy us, it runs both ways. We may harbor zero jealousy towards others, and yet, secretly want others to envy us.

Look how cool my life is. Why aren’t you more impressed with me yet?

Byron’s book about how to stop seeking love has an eloquent passage about this inversion. She admits there was a time in her life where she wanted people to see her with rays of golden light streaming out from her like an angel and bask in her wonderfulness and be a little envious that they hadn’t attained it yet.

These are the irrational thoughts we think when our nostalgia for the future takes over. And the sad part is, this envy hurts our ability to connect in the present.

Because it’s hard to feel love for someone when we’re obsessing over why we deserve their life more than they do. 

Do you do what you do because you love doing it, or because you saw someone else do it and you just want what they had?

Sign up for daily updates


Daily updates straight to your inbox.

Copyright ©2020 HELLO, my name is Blog!