Looking For Approval Leads To Bad Decisions


It is a funny thing how childhood affects who we are as adults.

I’m going to give you an example. I rarely haggle. I usually pay the full price. Even when this seems unfair, I still do it. I don’t do it because I have too much money available. I’m doing it because I don’t want to look as a cheapstake to others. I’m looking approval and I’ve been looking approval since I was a child. I wanted people to like me so I would do extra efforts to act in a cool way. And a cool person, never haggles. He pays more than it is worth, not less.

This lead me to a long history of accepting the first offer being made to me. From paying extra for taxis to never trying to negotiate rental agreements, I’ve end up being the person saying yes. I would trade 20% or 30% that I could get, by asking questions and trying to push the price down for someone’s good impression of me that lasts just a few minutes. After all, that person is going to be happy for getting more money and then forget about me completely.

Last year, I was in the offices of a big Internet Marketing company. I was a welcomed guest there. I was spending time with the CEO. At one point, he called a provider for a deal worth maybe $500. He is a person that is selling $1.000.000 worth of products every six months. That person said a price. He lowballed her right away. He could afford it. He could play it cool. He could make her understand that he is this hotshot and he doesn’t care if it is $300 or $500. But no. He treated that transaction like that 25% discount was saving his business. And this is one of the reasons why he is very rich and I’m not.

The basic truth is that the more you care about people care about you, the more you will act in a manner that will keep your image clean and the less you’ll act in your self-interest. Getting people to like you is an expensive endeavor, either in costs or in opportunity costs.

I’d like to ask you one thing though – why? Why do you care if people like you and see you as a cool person? 99% of the people you meet, you’ll never meet again. You’ll not have sex with her, you’ll not drink a beer with him, you’ll not be invited to the Christmas reunion and you won’t even get a call for your birthday. When you leave a 25 USD tip to that waiter, what do you think you have accomplished? You think beer will taste better next time just because you have left that tip? We both know this is not true.

Instead, this desire to look good in front of others is deeply embedded into our psyche. From an evolutionary standpoint, if others rejected us, we would die alone as living in a tribe was critical to our survival as individuals. In 50 people tribes, antagonizing someone would have mean a sure and definite consequence to your survival. You’re not living in a 50 people tribe though and one person not liking you has generally zero consequences over your life.

I’ve paid for drinks, I’ve helped, I’ve borrowed money, I’ve entertained people I did not like, simply because I wanted their approval. I’m not proud of it. It just points out that I had a low self esteem at that moment. The important thing is to understand why this happens (because honestly, it happens to both of us) and to act accordingly.

Most decisions that make sense for you in life are unpopular. People do not like to be left out or feel inferior or not significant. People do not like when you put yourself and your goals first. Sacrificing yourself for others is seen as a virtue, sacrificing yourself for your own being is seen as selfish. It’s a screwed up world we’re living. Even so, you must learn that while staying on good terms with those around you is almost always a good idea, staying on good terms does not mean that you need to act against your own self-interest. You come first, others come second. You were not born to be your brother’s keeper. You were born to be your keeper first, second and third and then, if that’s what you want, help others.

But this isn’t even about helping. This is about determining your self worth by how much others do like you. An emotionally healthy person lives in harmony with those around her but her self value, self worth is not determined by other people. It is internal. It’s based on values and a map of reality. An emotionally unhealthy person does the opposite. He lives in a form of codependence with the approval of those around him. If others agree, he’s happy. If they don’t, he’s not.

The problem with this is that what gets the approval of those around you is generally unhealthy for you. People approve of you based on their own standards and judgements of value, in other words, what they consider right and that’s generally what’s right for them. So practically you would need to take decisions that benefit others at your cost in order to get universal approval. That’s a lose – win, and the lose is for you.

I’ve read Atlas Shrugged a long time ago. I was just a child. I remember the first instance. I moved back to my parents as I ran out of my money and I was dating my then girlfriend Ana. I was listening it on audiobook. I was mesmerized. It made sense for me. It was a philosophy of living that had as few contradictions as possible. In a world where true and false was determined by emotion, the logic of Rand was brilliant to me.

From that moment onwards, I’ve had a love hate relationship. I generally loved Atlas Shrugged when my life was going fine and I was happy. As a champion, I was the biggest champion of objectivism and rational selfishness. When my life was in pieces, generally by feeling too alone or having someone leave me (and feeling withdrawal pains), I hated Rand. I saw her as the devil because thinking and acting in her way lead me to so much pain.

But, Rand is right. You need to put yourself first. You can help others only after you’ve helped yourself. And while this philosophy will turn many away (because after all, it’s a painful slap on the face to tell someone “In my life, I matter more than you and I’ll always put myself first”), just because others don’t like it, this doesn’t make it false.

This is a divergent conversations though, one that doesn’t belong here. Here, my idea is simple. Stop carrying about the approvals of others. It’s empty money. It doesn’t value anything. Take decisions that rationally make sense. That’s all.

Best regards,
Razvan Rogoz