Your Fear Of Looking Stupid Is Making You Look Stupid

What other people think of you is none of your business.

Thrive Global
Published in
6 min readApr 20, 2018


According to psychological research, the greatest emotional need is security.

Who doesn’t want to be liked?

Yet, trying to be liked and living in alignment with your goals and values often conflict. That is, if you’re trying to be liked by everyone.

John Lennon once said, “Trying to please everybody is impossible — if you did that, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You’ve just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.”

Wanting approval and needing approval are two very different things. We all want approval. But when you need it:

  • You come-off as desperate
  • you say “yes” to stuff that clearly doesn’t resonate
  • you lack an internal compass
  • your relationships are co-dependent, one-sided, surface-level, and bound to fall apart at some future point

Your need for approval has you eating unhealthy foods you don’t want to eat.

It has you working on projects you’re not excited about.

It has you ruminating and obsessing about problems and regrets you could easily remove or fix.

Joyce Meyer, in her book, Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone, explains that the need for approval stems from insecurity, which is often the product of some form of abuse — physical, verbal or emotional.

The addiction for approval is fueled by unhealthy emotions:

  • guilt
  • shame
  • anger

None of these emotions are a healthy foundation for creating relationships with yourself or other people.

If you want to live a life of purpose, you’ll need to let go of your need for approval. You’ll need to be willing to follow your gut. To express your views. To be honest…

Healthy Relationships Involve Conflict And Differences

Where are you NEEDING approval in unhealthy ways?

It is there, if you’ll be honest with yourself. Rather than sending a text or email, actually call or meet with that person. Muster the courage to have a real conversation and express your feelings.

This is practice. But it’s also self-care and self-love. If you truly love and respect yourself, you’ll deal with the difficult emotions of learning to honestly express yourself. If you do not do this, you will inevitably repeat the pattern in the future.

Your time on this planet is very brief. It shouldn’t be spent doing what you hate. It shouldn’t be lived in fear of what others think.

Relationships can be so deep and genuine and real. Conflict, it turns out, is one of the surest paths to intimacy.

When two people feel safe and comfortable in a relationship, they’re willing to have honest and sometimes difficult conversations. They’re willing to disagree. They don’t have to see eye-to-eye on all things. In fact, they shouldn’t.

When conflict arises, it’s not about the relationship, but about getting clarity and moving forward with whatever they are working on.

Your “Security” Should Be Internal

“An abundance mentality springs from internal security, not from external rankings, comparisons, opinions, possessions, or associations.” — Stephen R. Covey

Security is the greatest human need. Yet, security should be internal. Even when things are falling apart externally, you need to be willing to trust yourself. Of course you need good friends to help and support you. But until your security is internal, you’ll never be able to be fully honest in your relationships in the first place.

You’ll be tossed to and fro with every external situation around you.

You can’t actually give genuine service or gifts if you’re desperately needing approval from others. Because anything you give to them is really to gain something for yourself — approval. It’s desperate and unhealthy.

Hence, Covey explained that abundance comes from being internally secure.

As Jody Williamson, one of the top salesmen in the United States, teaches his employees, you must believe you are independently wealthy, and that you don’t NEED this particular prospect.

When you truly believe and know you are fine and secure without THIS relationship or THIS opportunity, then you can act honestly and genuinely. You won’t come off desperate. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll keep going. Life is fine. Ironically, this is also how to get into flow, be present, and perform at your highest level.

Only in this way will you attract the opportunities and relationships that resonate with the person you intend to become.

It’s Okay To “Look” Stupid At 99% Of Life

“Your fear of looking stupid is making you look stupid.” — RuPual

Hilariously, people avoid asking for advice because they don’t want to look incompetent. Yet, research from Harvard Business School found that when you ask people for help, directions, or advice, it actually makes other people believe you’re MORE competent.

If you tell people, “no,” they’ll be initially hurt but will respect you more.

Memory Is Very Short (This Will Be Forgotten)

“Short-term memory has a fairly limited capacity; it can hold about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time.” — Science.howstuffworks

People have very short memories. Almost every experience you have you’ll permanently forget within 30 seconds. Like, you’ll never recall it.

Think about all the things you’ve done today. Most of it you’ll never recall.

When you ask someone for advice, they’ll quickly forget about it.

When you get rejected by someone, they’ll quickly forget it. As will you.

When you reject an opportunity, both of you will likely forget about it.

The point is, seeking the wrong approval is extremely costly. And avoiding the wrong approval is very cheap. Because if you do it kindly, the relationship will actually be strengthened, and both parties will quickly forget about it anyways.

Seeking The Wrong “Golden Stars”

“Who is giving you stupid Gold Stars in life? And what are they costing you?” — Craig Ballantyne

Needing approval puts you in a position of seeking the wrong “golden stars,” in life.

Does it feel good to have someone’s approval? Of course. But it also feels terrible getting the wrong people’s approval because you’re internally conflicted.

In such cases, you actually resent the person you’re seeking approval from. How messed-up is this?

Rather than seeking “stupid” golden stars of approval, Craig Ballantyne recommends asking yourself:

  • Who should I be seeking approval from?
  • Who are the people I really want to be serving?
  • Who are the people I really want to be working with?

You can’t please everyone.

If a writer tries to please everyone, they will have no audience.

If a person tries to please everyone, they will have no genuine relationships. All relationships will be transactions. Conversely, transformational relationships can only happen when all parties are “givers,” who genuinely want to be there and are not constantly keeping score. All parties need to be healthily independent of the relationship so they can create interdependence where transformation and growth can happen.

Quantity Is The Path To Quality

“It’s better to be prolific than perfect.” — Joe Polish

If you want to get good at something, you can’t NEED approval from other people. The people who matter will love you anyways.

You’re going to need to fail a lot.

In the book Originals, Adam Grant explains that “originals” (i.e., people who create innovative work) are not reliable. In other words, not everything they produce is extraordinary.

For example, among the 50 greatest pieces of music ever created, six belong to Mozart, five are Beethoven’s, and three Bach’s. But in order to create those, Mozart wrote over 600 songs, Beethoven 650, and Bach over 1,000.

Similarly, Picasso created thousands of pieces of art, and few are considered to be his “great works.” Edison had 1,900 patents, and only a handful we would recognize. Albert Einstein published 248 scientific articles, only a few of which are what got him on the map for his theory of relativity.

If Mozart was concerned about the approval of others for every piece he wrote, he wouldn’t have written so many. His perfectionism would have created procrastination.

Perfectionism isn’t about you. It’s about an unhealthy need for approval. It’s about a fear of failure and looking incompetent. It’s the opposite of courage. And it’s the opposite of mastery.



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