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.
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.