I care less about money than I ever have before. But accolades get me every time.
Last spring was one of the most successful seasons of my life—at least in worldly terms. I released a book, Clutterfree with Kids, that spent two weeks as the #1 Parenting book in America. On the exact same day, our Facebook page passed 100,000 fans (now at almost 250,000). And, with over 1 million visitors each month, Becoming Minimalist was reaching more and more people with the life-giving benefits of owning less.
I felt like I was on top of the world. It was an amazing season. And I enjoyed it for almost an entire two weeks.
You see, later that spring, during an evening session of answering email at my dining room table, I began to notice some interesting chatter on social media. A friend of mine had been featured on a popular news website. Immediately, it seemed, everybody was talking about her, heaping praise on her accomplishment.
I should have been happy for her. But I wasn’t. Instead, I was jealous. I wanted that level of exposure.
And in a heartbeat, everything changed.
Later that same week, I noticed another author’s Facebook page was growing faster than mine. And then a different blogger’s post was going viral. To make it worse, my book was no longer on top of any bestsellers list. In fact, there were several parenting books selling better than mine. I began to regret that I didn’t title my book, The 5 Love Languages to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Rather than celebrating one of the greatest seasons of my life, I had become petty and envious of the people around me. And this was not just a superficial jealousy that fades in the morning—this was a jealousy deeply rooted in my heart that I could not shake no matter what I tried.
My work and accomplishments immediately seemed less impressive.
A short while later I was listening to Anne Lamott speak at a conference in San Diego. She was speaking about writing, but she was also speaking about life (as she so brilliantly does).
During one of her answers, she made an important observation. She said, “If you are hoping to find your self-worth and fulfillment in other peoples’ opinion of your writing, you will never find it.”
Her statement caught my attention immediately. I thought back over the last several weeks and suddenly realized that is exactly what I had done. I had based my self-worth and happiness on the number of accolades I received from others. And as they began to turn elsewhere, so did my opinion of the life I was trying to live.
Finding our self-worth in the approval and accolades from others is always a foolish pursuit.
It negatively impacts the decisions we make and the life we choose to live. But they never fully satisfy our hearts or our souls. Even those who have reached the pinnacle of fame and prestige in our society long for more. As Eric Hoffer once wrote, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”
The life you live is the life you live regardless if anybody notices or not. (tweet that)
Our goal is not to secure accolades. They are empty and fleeting. Our goal is to live the one life we’ve been given to its greatest potential—whether anybody praises you for it or not.
I have always had a high need for recognition and the resulting jealousy when I see others get recognized. I realized a few years back that because I didn’t love myself, I needed constant reassurance to know that I was enough. Self-love and acceptance is a muscle that needs to execised or it atrophies. I can tell when I’m slipping back into comparison living when I cannot celebrate the success of my peers and friends.
Grateful granny says
As my late mother used to say, “God notices”. Do we need any more affirmation than that?
Katie O'Brien says
Your transparency is admirable!! Looking up to you and your success it’s quite inspiring to see even the best fall into the comparison trap some days. Thank you for shining your light and sharing your truth!!
Thank you for this message! This is an area I have recognized I need to work on and it is hard!
jill britz says
Thanks for being honest. You never seem like someone who struggles with comparison, so I appreciate your being authentic. It gives me courage that one of the big dogs feels like I do sometimes.
Education Papers says
Thank you for this information .i like your website because it have a lot of articles that they happen in everyday of our life.
simple and to the soul :) so true !
Ali Davies says
I think this is why it is so important to create our own definition of success based on our values and what is most important to us and focus on that, not how we compare to others. As you rightly point out, the latter can be very destructive.
Love this post!! Thank you for this. It can be very easy to lose sight of what truly matters on a soulful level, especially living in society and with modern day social media. This is a wonderful lesson/reminder of what truly matters.
Lars Bergman says
Thank you, that post was for me right now! :)
I started blogging six years ago, with energy and inspiration. It all went well – until the accolades began to penetrate my defense. When someone commented on one of my blog posts: “This was the most beautiful text I have read on the Internet for a long, long time!” then I started feeling a pressure to deliver every time, and the joy soon disappeared. Some time later the blog was virtually dead.
Now I am just about to start all over, with a fresh load of inspiration. I have got myself a domain, and I have prepared a design on WordPress. But this time I am NOT connecting to any top lists, and I am NOT posting a LIKE-button. This time I intend to just do my thing, mention it to a handful of friends on Facebook, and then DODGE whenever I hear the accolades come roaring in… :)
Love this post, but we sometimes forget that we weren’t put on this earth to live this life the way WE want. We were put here to help others.
“At the end of our lives we won’t be judged by how many diploma’s we have or how much money we made, or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, I was hungry and you gave me to eat, naked; and you clothed me, homeless and you took me in.” Mother Theresa
Bethany @ Online Therapy and Coaching says
So many of us have the habit of seeking our self-worth externally, but that is never something that lasts. It can become addicting. It is a lot of work to find our own inner worth, but it is infinitely worth it.
Chris Wehkamp says
This is just so courageous and truthful, Joshua. It cut right to my core. “Not just the petty jealousy that fades in the morning…” we can seem so ugly to ourselves inside sometimes. Jealousy is such a painful feeling to contend with that many try to deny it out of existence. But you own it so thoroughly here. Thanks for sticking with writing the truth, lumps and all.
It is so interesting how most people will never realize that this type of jealously is linked to self worth. Some might even define it as what drives them to do their next “big thing”. What is really damaging is the negative self-talk that develops and brings you further down. If I only I was as smart, funny, talented, beautiful (insert description here) as that person I could have additional success. After time, your regularly scolding yourself for not being more of whatever you think you lack. I could even equate it to your concept of minimalism, in the way that some people equate possessions with success. A friend shared a page from a meditation journal the other day that described how self-sufficiency is an illusion that results from pride and that only when we surrender completely to God’s plan for us and live in the moment will we feel at peace. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s how I interpreted it. I took it further to mean that no one is meant to do it all alone, that it is ok in times of struggle or success to depend on others for support without using their approval to determine your self worth. It was a behavior I was engaging in that I wasn’t even aware of before.
Joy @ Jumbled Up Joy says
Thanks so much for this! I needed it. Accolades are a weird thing for me. When I get them, I often feel embarrassed or undeserving. When I don’t, I feel jealous of others. I keep wishing my blog would grow or my FB page would or whatever, but I also know (that I know, that I know) that I just want to be good at the life I’ve been given.
This is a little silly, but still: I was noticing the other day (because I’m 9 months pregnant) that people are extremely nice to you when you’re pregnant (just take my word for it). You get dressed and brush your hair and people say, “Wow!! You look amazing!!” This one being my fifth, I know that it comes to a pretty abrupt halt once you have the baby. No one talks about “your adorable belly” any more. ;-) No one says, “Oh, you just get cuter every time I see you!” I’m enjoying the kind words, but at the same time, I know they’re going to stop being about me soon. Of course, I’m okay with it because I’ll have a new person to get to love, but I have to admit I’ll miss people just being nice all the time.
Your words “Finding our self-worth in the approval and accolades of others is always a foolish pursuit…The life you live is the life you live regardless of if anyone notices are not” are just perfect right now. Thanks again!
Ethan Caine says
Like you Tony Robbins got all pissy right after he became a billionaire. He came to the same conclusions….hopfully we all can as well…or big cocaine bender. Either works.
Thank you, Joshua for this timely post. I really appreciate your honesty. I write a little newsletter for my friend’s small business. While I am passionate about the subject, and feel good about volunteering to do this to help my friend, I am losing my interest in continuing it because I feel that no one reads it anyway. I am not a person that wants a lot of attention, yet I do want to feel like I am not just wasting my time. It should be enough that I am helping a dear friend and she appreciates it. I can write about something I love and have another reason to keep learning that subject.
You often post just the thing I need to hear when I need to hear it and I am very grateful that you keep writing!
Keep in mind that the numbers don’t really mean anything, as they do not reflect the kind of connection you have made. Quality over quantity, right? (Now if I could just remember that…)
About 10 years ago a woman joined my organization who was very skilled at publicizing her work and gaining nationwide recognition for it. It seemed that she was always in the news, and whenever a picture was needed for a website or poster, hers was the one that was chosen. Since I had worked hard for my organization for many years, with little recognition, this was difficult and disheartening. But gradually I found a point of view that was helpful to me. I reminded myself that whenever my colleague won an award, it enhanced the reputation of our whole organization and even our area of work, and thus benefited all of us. I admitted to myself that I did not like to travel and give talks and do the other background work necessary to make my name known. I don’t even like having my photo taken. In this sense, I could view my colleague’s actions as a beneficial division of labor. Finally, I realized that other members of our organization still came to me for advice or when they needed certain important jobs performed carefully and accurately.
I would also like to say that this web site has been tremendously helpful to me, both personally and professionally. I have read and reread some of the posts many times, and I put my favorites on my door at work. The post on helping others succeed and the faulty premise of a finite-size pie is particularly wonderful, and I think, relevant to this discussion.
It sure is a tough one! If we don’t have that competitive desire for recognition and achievement would we put ourselves out there in the first place? It’s a powerful driver for improvement and excellence :-)
I called my best friend today, humiliated that I was severely afflicted with jealousy over another blogger’s success. It hasn’t been a delight to see her soar to high heights – it’s been painful.
I’m trying to offer all of my efforts to Jesus, b/c ultimately I want to please him anyway; and I have to believe that he called me to work in a particular way, unique from anyone else’s style.
Thank you for your post – it gave me hope that I can be free from jealousy.
Lori Alexander says
Amen! I try not to look at my stats. Life is better when you don’t care how many people are reading and you just write because you are passionate about what you write about!
Michelle in N. Cal says
This was such a beautiful and timely post. I recently committed myself and family to a minimalist lifestyle (selling off 85% of our belongings and clothing). I am an artist with an on-line shop. I deleted my FB account last year and it was the best thing I ever did. At 43, I’ve learned for my soul, a quiet life is a happy life.
Beth DeRoos says
Someone may have, as an example 10k followers and have less than 1% who take what is being shared and use it.
While someone with 1k followers, will have 50% who will take what is shared and use it, and have 10 friends who will follow as well.
The smallest pebble tossed into still water can have a bigger,and steady effect as it ripples outward than a larger pebble that will ripple but not have that slow steady effect.
You want the steady slow lasting effect, because a minimalist living is a lifestyle, not a fad.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:18
The author of Ecclesiastes also said, “everything” is vanity!
This is a very good message. As a blogger, I have to remind myself that I am writing for myself and to help others. It’s hard when you are trying to reach more people with your message to NOT equate that to success, popularity, etc.
Lori in Prescott says
Wait a minute. Didn’t you write this once before?
I thought the same thing, but wasn’t sure.
Angela @ Setting My Intention says
Thank you for being vulnerable. It’s helpful to know that one so “successful” still struggles with these human emotions
Christina @ Embracing Simple says
Beautifully written, Joshua! I used to place such an emphasis on accolades myself, and eventually learned that I definitely did not find true happiness in them. It left me feeling empty and as a result, I adjusted my priorities. Now I really have no use for accolades or outside recognition, I do things purely because I feel like they are right or a good decision for my family and myself.
I have a quiet little blog – with a handful of readers and even less followers…. and accolades don’t come. Because of that…. esteem and joy wane sometimes.
But what about the satisfaction I get from simply sitting and penning things out? It’s therapy. A gift.
Chasing the applause will always leave us empty and wanting. Such a fine reminder for me today.
Many, many thanks.
This is important to remember – “The life you live is the life you live regardless if anybody notices or not.”
It is oh so easy to fall into the stats trap:
“If you are hoping to find your self-worth and fulfillment in other peoples’ opinion of your writing, you will never find it.”
And now I breathe a sigh of relief after sitting here for 3 nights trying to write and being unable to, simply because I felt that I should produce a post to keep my traffic up, to keep consistent, etc etc. In the end I blog to write, I don’t blog to be popular (ironic, yes, since this is exactly the opposite to what I tell my clients but then they use blogging for marketing purposes). But popularity, the beast that it is, can be oh so tantalising, especially when it’s all so in your face (get more tweets, more likes, more shares, more more more!).
Soumya Radhakrishnan says
Yes, self-worth is the solution for this. From a business perspective, shelf-life of books, music and most of the products have generally reduced especially after the dot-com boom. So, it is definitely an achievement even if a book has been #1 for just a two-week period.
Great article, btw.
This sounds like another example of intrinsic goals being more attainable and rewarding whereas extrinsic goals are basically never-ending pursuits that leave you permanently unsatisfied. It’s a difficult lesson to absorb, given that our society focuses so much on extrinsic goals. Thanks for a health dose of reality!
Kevin McGrane says
Spot on, Joshua. Thank you. I needed this insight this week. God bless!
Joshua Banker says
i really really needed this today. Thank you!
Caroline Starr Rose says
This is something I’m trying so hard to remember, especially as reviews roll in. My new mantra is “My editor is proud of this book. I am proud of this book. This is enough.”
Beautiful thought. Approval is quite empty. I can think of many examples in my life: getting the degree, getting the job, getting the raise, getting the bonus, meeting the expectations of the parents. A temporary endorphin shot is all we get out of it. All that hard work, for that temporary endorphin shot.
“The life you live is the life you live regardless if anybody notices or not.”
Thank you for this statement and this blog. It’s so interesting to me how I love myself and my life when I am in a bubble of my own. The minute I venture out into the real world, I despise myself and degrade my life, as it doesn’t compare to something else or someone else’s. I have to keep on reminding myself that I am living my own life, and that is that. It doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks I am amazing or my life is amazing, as long as I am having fun and doing what I want with my time on this earth. No one else’s opinion matters, except myself. I should tattoo that on myself.
True, Joshua. I struggled with jealousy a few years back and it isn’t pretty! It eats away inside like a cancer and zaps the joy out of every other aspect of your life. I overcame it somehow…but when trapped in its clutches it’s very difficult to escape.
Phil Pogson says
Ah, the growing pains of character and virtue…….
Hi Joshua, I don’t know many folks who would admit to feeling what you did even though the emotion is universal. Thank you. You’ve altered my mindset over the past four years. You’ve freed my mind from material pursuits – it is such a relief, to living more mindfully with my young children. Thank you again, Ann.
Daisy @ Simplicity Relished says
It’s hard to be so candid about our own vanity; thank you Joshua! It takes courage to admit to envy, because it can be such an easy struggle to deny.
When I’ve grown competitive about something, I’ve found myself trying to act as though I no longer care– because if I don’t care, then I can’t lose, right? However, I think there’s a deeper change of heart that needs to take place: the realization that the nature of our accomplishments don’t change by what others say about them. Excellent post, as usual!
Ah yes, true motivations of the heart can be elusive. The pursuit of praise is a major obstacle in the path to meaning and fulfillment. Bloggers, in particular, need to constantly re-evaluate motives. Here are some other reasons to quit blogging:
What a powerful lesson! I actually blogged about the same type of message today, got to love serendipity!!
I think everyone is realizing just how false the success we perceive in others is, and how it just robs us of our joy when we are constantly bombarded with advertising and social media messages that we don’t measure up somehow.
Thank you for your honesty!
Erin Landells says
Another timely and honest post. Thank you! So much of changing our lives is about learning to change the way we think about things. It’s definitely not easy!
So true, but hard to resist. Writing to help people rather than get recognition is a worthy but difficult pursuit.
Allie || Miles to Home says
Thanks for this honest post! I tend to be someone who highly recognition, the more public the better, over most things. This week it’s been popping up a bit for me, so this post couldn’t be more timely!
Our Next Life says
A beautiful and honest post. Thank you. This is one of those life lessons that feels immediately true, and yet incredibly hard to live by. Everything in our society is structured now to make us compare ourselves to others (comments, likes, media mentions, house size, etc.). And though minimalists are uniquely suited to buck convention, it’s still hard to put the ego stuff aside entirely. But thank you for this wonderful testimony on why it’s so important to do so. It helps. :-)
You hit the nail on the head.
Sandra Pawula says
Thank you of being so honest, Joshua! You have truly spoken the truth.
I fall in this hole sometimes too, but I know now it’s a hole and not one I want to live in.
In Buddhism, there’s a very simple practice that used as an anti-dote to jealousy and envy. It’s rejoicing for the other person’s success, accomplishment, or gain and wishing they have more. It’s a practice, naturally, because it takes time to erode away envy for almost all of us.