We all strive to be good at what we do and make an impact.
Since childhood, we’ve learned to seek external validation to prove our worth.
However, this very need for external validation stands in the way of true mastery.
Here’s why our desire to be recognized as “good” can block us from becoming great at what we do:
1. Impaired performance
Ironically, those who obsessively seek validation often experience worse results.
The need for approval burdens them with anxiety, self-doubt, and fear of failure.
These negative emotions undermine focus, creativity, and overall performance.
Instead of focusing on their clients or their craft, they are too focused on themselves.
Studies have shown that students who base their self-esteem on academic results perform worse.
2. Extreme Reactions to External Criticism
If you rely on external validation, you tend to react defensively or overly trust criticism.
Defensively, you resist constructive feedback, seeing it as a threat to your self-image.
Defensiveness is a toxic behaviour that reveals a fixed mindset and the need to protect one’s ego more than their desire to learn and grow.
Defensiveness is the one thing I do not tolerate in my company’s culture. It stands in the way of our continuous growth.
Conversely, you may overly rely on external criticism to determine your worth.
I always remind my clients that feedback reveals more about the giver than the receiver.
Business, like comedy, is a numbers game. A comedian does not test their joke on one or two people. They test it in a relatively big audience; if more than 50% laugh, they have a winner.
It is also worth bearing in mind that works ahead of their time are often misunderstood by their contemporaries.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Both extreme reactions to criticism, resisting it or taking it at face value, limit your ability to evaluate your work objectively and get better.
3. Assuming Sole Responsibility for Cocreated Results
Seeking external validation can lead you to shoulder excessive responsibility for joint results.
You may do your clients’ or teams’ work for them and end up disappointed and burnt out.
Imagine a good doctor who does everything right but still loses a patient. If they took sole responsibility for the result, they would give up their jobs.
We often react like that doctor. What’s more, we make a negative result mean something about ourselves. “I am not good enough; this will never work for me, etc.”
We end up heartbroken, seriously injuring our resilience and ability to try new things in the future.
We cannot control everything. By taking sole responsibility for our successes and failures, we stress ourselves out and do not take advantage of the power of co-creation.
Additionally, our work can be more or less good. Our results can be good or bad. It is what we make those facts mean about ourselves that causes fear and heartbreak.
4. Alienating clients or employers
Constantly seeking reassurance can make you appear insecure, eroding trust and credibility.
Imagine working with someone who constantly expects praise and becomes upset when they don’t receive it. Not great for your relationship, is it?
5. Avoiding Risks and Stifling Extraordinary Results
If you fear failure and judgment, you will avoid innovative ideas and unconventional approaches.
Extraordinary results often stem from stepping outside comfort zones and exploring new territories.
Mastery requires embracing uncertainty, experimenting and pushing beyond perceived limitations.
A profound transformation occurs as we shed the need to be perceived as good at what we do and embrace a path of growth.
We free ourselves from the shackles of external expectations. We allow ourselves to express our unique talents and authentic selves.
Mastery becomes an expression of our passion, curiosity, and dedication to learning.
When we release the attachment to being good, we cultivate an inner compass that leads us to get better.
We no longer fear failure or judgment but rather embrace them as stepping stones on the path to mastery.
This newfound freedom allows us to innovate, take risks, and create original works that push the boundaries of our field.