Desire for influence is human nature. Many people allow this to dictate the course of their lives, often unaware. But the Stoic philosophers developed a deeper sense of awareness and took the opposite approach.
Influence wasn’t their end goal. They approached it with indifference and chalked it up to fortune–nice to have but nonessential. Instead, they offered a more effective strategy—seek meaning over influence.
If you focus on work that matters to you and discover significance in yourself, you put yourself in a position to build something that strikes a deeper chord with others.
“Find significance within yourself. Within your own sphere of power–that is where you have the greatest consequence.” Epictetus
But if influence acts as your guiding principle, you dull your sense of authenticity and depth. You might get lucky and hit the target a few times. But you’ll always be guessing. And it’s difficult to sustain when you’re creating from outside of yourself and dependent on things beyond your control.
It’s a dangerous game to tie your sense of meaning and self-worth to external conditions. You introduce dependencies that can drop you into a state of anxiety, envy or despair, without warning.
Sooner or later your voice begins to waver. By allowing influence to dictate your decisions, you compromise the quality of your work and your character. And how much good can you do if you sacrifice your integrity and a sense of meaning in your work along the way?
What you’re building must first resonate with you before you can expect it to resonate with anyone else.
“But if you lose your honor in striving for greater (perceived) significance, you become useless.” Epictetus
People gravitate towards those who have discovered a deeper sense of meaning in their work. That’s why the Stoics remain relevant to this day. They created from a place of meaning and valued their internal compass over recognition.
When you seek meaning over influence, you add an unusual depth to your voice that draws people in.
As their influence grew, they leveraged it to contribute something worthwhile. But they weren’t dependent on it. Despite the obstacles faced and privileges afforded, they remained focused on what was within their realm of control–living a meaningful life to the best of their ability.
Meaning starts with something that’s all your own. By prioritizing meaning over influence, you build the courage to speak from a place that resonates with you.
You would be foolish to ignore your audience entirely. But that’s a secondary consideration because there’s no guarantee. You’re the one who has to live with the work you put out into the world and the way you live your life.
Influence is far more likely to follow if you build something you believe in.
Keep your principles in order. When influence tilts your way, you’ll be prepared to lead with a steady hand like a Stoic. You’ll position yourself as the antithesis of the paranoid, corrupt leaders scattered throughout history.
But if you fail to assign things their proper value, you’ll risk losing yourself to an obsession with influence and power.
Focus instead on the things that are your own and create from there. There’s more fulfillment in this work and it often leads to better outcomes.
When you focus on your own authenticity, there’s a far greater chance it will resonate and make a measurable difference in someone else’s life. And even if it doesn’t, it remains valuable because it meant something to you. There’s a fundamental beauty in that.
“Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous…Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by contempt?” Marcus Aurelius
It’s a rare thing in this world to first seek significance in yourself and build the courage to create something that resonates with you. Trust yourself. The world is drawn to authenticity.
When you value meaning over influence you’ll achieve a state of relaxed concentration to do the work that matters. The work you find meaning in. And it’s through this work that you build character and a sense of authenticity.
Seek meaning first, authenticity and influence will follow.
Seek influence first and you’ll risk losing yourself along the way.
This is a guest post by Alex J. Hughes who is a writer and software product manager based in Nashville, TN. Join his newsletter for strategies, articles, and book recommendations for living more deliberately.