Question: I know it's a mistake looking to someone else for a sense of myself, but how can I keep from giving myself away?
Answer: What good is any feeling we may have about ourselves, if it only lasts as long as others agree to it? Seeking and receiving approval from others is like sitting down hungry to an imaginary meal. You're invited to eat all you want, but no matter how much imaginary food is served, you can never get your fill. Your hunger remains. No fictional feast ever satisfies. But we still look to others for our sense of self even though the very moment it's received, it must be renewed. No one can give us that which can only be found with our Self. No one can give us the approval we seek, because it isn't his or hers to give. And the more we understand the truth of this higher fact, the less inclined we'll be to give ourselves away. We must do the needed inner work, which alone leads to owning our own lives.
Question: How can it be wrong to want or enjoy the approval and respect of my peers?
Answer: Winning approval and respect from others and wanting it have very little in common. When we're willing to go the extra mile -- to be or to do what is true, especially if there's a personal cost attached to it -- others see our sacrifice and their approval is a spontaneous reaction to seeing excellence in action. Enjoyment of this kind of approval is both natural and non-binding. But if our initial wish is to attract attention or applause, then we're doing what we're doing for all the wrong reasons. Then we have neither good works, nor respect.
Approval may be awarded, but never sought. The approval we seek makes us debtors of our own fearful feelings -- and of whomever makes us temporarily forget these fears. We must be very alert to the whole process of peer approval. Cunning human beings understand just how deep and strong run the forces that drive us to look for approval from others. They use this knowledge of our weakness for their own gain. Only higher self-awareness which produces active inner-alertness can keep us safe from these unconscious and misguided self-betraying forces -- as well as from those who would use them against us. Increase your effort to be aware of yourself around others, and instead of seeking approval, use your energy to watch the approval-seeking self.
This article is an excerpt from www.GuyFinleyNow.org, Life of Learning's Online Wisdom Center directed by Guy Finley