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There is Only One Place to Look for Approval

Daily Stoic Emails

We all want to be liked. We want the acceptance of our peers. We want to be chosen. We want the stamp of approval—from the critics, from the crowd, from the market.

This makes sense…except it doesn’t.

Is it not true that most people are not very bright, hold regressive or alarming opinions, and generally follow the herd? And yet somehow we think it’s vindication when they love us? It’s nonsense. It’s pretty strange how much we value the respect of people we don’t respect…and the lengths we’re willing to go to get it.

“If you are ever tempted to look for outside approval,” Epictetus said, “realize that you have compromised your integrity. If you need a witness, be your own.” This was something Marcus Aurelius wrestled with more than Epictetus because he was a public person. He saw crowds cheering him in the street. People flocked to court to heap praise on him (before asking for favors). He also had to put up with their jeers and criticisms.

Eventually he realized that he couldn’t pay attention to any of it. He had to hold himself to his own standard—an inner scorecard—and ignore everything else. The clapping was meaningless. The boos were too. What mattered was his own integrity—he had to be his own witness.

And today, so do you. It doesn’t matter what other people say or think. Approval and disapproval are equally meaningless. What matters is what you know is right, and whether you do it.