Character Development

Why Do We Want to Impress People?

I met a young man who always talked with his head tilted a bit sideways, because somebody once told him he had the profile of a famous actor. Most people didn´t think he had an actor´s profile; they thought he had a loose screw.

This sounds like a weird story, but think a moment — aren’t we acting the same way when we let making an impression on others determine our actions?

The body is happy with the illusion that others think we´re important. But the soul looks for what is truly meaningful. The body says: “Let´s be important for the moment.” The soul says: “Let´s be really important.” The body balks at the challenges involved. The soul knows the right thing to do.

And while we identify with our soul, we frequently follow our body…

What Motivates You?

We have to make sure that everything we do in life is what´s best for us, and is not based on impressing others. For example, if we´re planning a social program, we should ask ourselves what is our motivation in planning the program?

If we’re planning a trip to India, we have to ask ourselves, is it because we really want to go there (with all the filth and misery that we’ll find in the streets)? Or because we hope to impress everyone with our latest adventure?

Make a list of what your friends typically do to impress you – they’re fun to be with, they have money, strength, skills, education, intelligence, a career, health, and are into sports. Are there any other things that should be on this list?

Now make a list of things you do to impress others. What is it about these things that make you feel so important?

Ask yourself why you feel the need to impress other people. What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?

Pursuing Recognition

It´s human nature to seek recognition for our achievements, but we’re not always aware of it. Whatever we´re proud of, we want others to know about it, too. We realize this when conversing with friends. Whether intentional or not, see how long it takes the other person (and yourself!) to start mentioning personal accomplishments. “I met him when I was studying for my M.A.” Or “This picture reminds me of this fantastic trip I took to the Himalayas…” No matter what we’re talking about, our attempt to impress others will sneak in.

Why are we so eager to impress people?

Humans are hungry for meaning. But sometimes we don´t reach the level we should. So we need to compensate with an artificial boost from others.

Chasing after honor is a sign that a person doesn´t sufficiently respect himself. It´s like saying, “I might not amount to much, but if I can make others think I do, then I´m worth something.” But deep down a person knows it’s a bluff. He knows it’s not true. He is chasing “fool´s gold” – yellow and glittery, but worthless.

People who believe in themselves don’t need public recognition to reassure their worth. If you believe in yourself, you won’t care what others think.

Free Yourselves From Other’s Opinions

One who depends upon the opinions of others to determine how good he is, becomes like a leaf in the wind, fluttering in whichever direction the changing fads of the time blow him.

If you have confidence in your own worth, you´ll be better able to follow your own opinions instead of society´s.

G-d calls the Jews a “stiff-necked people.” Being stiff-necked is both good and bad. It´s bad because you are stubborn and unwilling to change. But it´s good because in the face of ridiculous fads and trends, you stick to your way of life. If the Jewish people were not stiff-necked, it would never have survived till today. We’ve spent 2000 years in exile among the world’s superpowers, and have been confronted with infinite lifestyles, viewpoints, cultures and theories. Only a genuine stiff-necked people could stick to its guns, and survive as an independent entity.

We all want success and greatness, and should seek it. But don´t live for others. Don´t base your career choice, lifestyle or even leisure time solely on what gives you status. Forget about “What will they think?“ and “What will they say?“ If you want to be great, then do something great. Not because it will earn you respect in the eyes of others, but because you want to live a meaningful life and fulfill your potential – regardless of the recognition it will bring you.

Realize that when you follow the straight path, even though others might initially reject you, you can go to sleep knowing that your conscience in clear – and that in the end, truth will prevail.

You Really Think You are Impressing Others?

Some people are constantly boasting about their achievements, as if to say, “Take notice. I am somebody!”

The Zohar says that anyone who does a commandment and boasts about it, loses the reward for it. Suppose you find out about a widow and her children in your neighborhood who have barely enough to eat. So you bring them food, provide support, and set them on the road to financial independence. The moment you start boasting about what you did, you´ve taken a beautiful act of giving, and used it for self-aggrandizement — and lost the reward for it.

People are suspicious of those desperate for recognition. That´s why honor is one of those strange things that the more you run after it, the less you get.

Judaism says that when you do a good deed, the only ones who need to know about it are you and G-d. Do kindness anonymously. Don´t worry. G-d will find a way to make sure you´re amply rewarded.


One of the most destructive ways of trying to impress others is by role-playing. We act out characters that we think others will like. Did you ever notice how your personality can change in the presence of different people? To those at the health club, we appear athletic. To our friends, we try to appear sophisticated. To our boss, we are serious. We may go through 10 or 20 roles per day!

Take a look at the different ways you project yourself, and try to describe them. You might even find yourself playing a variety of contradictory roles. This is dangerous, because by casually switching roles, you can lose sight of who you really are.

So think! Who is the real you?

Be aware that social pressure causes people to assume a certain “model.” Just think of all the people who subconsciously wish they were a famous actor or singer.

And check yourself out. Which model do I want to be? Is that really what I want?

When Role-Playing is Good

The capacity for role-playing has a positive side: it can draw out potential that we may not otherwise access. Our sages tell us that if our actions are positive, it awakens our inner selves and has a beneficial effect on us. As the saying goes, “The heart is drawn after one’s deeds.”

Choose a role that is good for you, and let it start affecting your daily behavior. Let´s say you want to become genuinely happy. So start playing the role of the cheerful, smiling, friendly person who likes being with people. Acting the part will train the body to become attuned – and the person you are “playing” eventually becomes the real you!

Perhaps you´ll ask: “Wait a moment! What’s the difference between deceiving others and deceiving myself?” The answer is that role-playing to bring out potential is positive, while role-playing to get compliments is negative and an empty exercise. The litmus test to know your real motivation is how you feel in the end. When trying to deceive others, you´ll end up feeling rotten afterwards. But if you´re acting in order to improve your character, you´ll end up feeling better about yourself.

In summary:

•    Don´t get trapped in the obsessive need for recognition.

•    Seeking the approval of others harms you, because it keeps you from the real work of becoming great.

•    If you need social recognition, it´s time to examine your self-esteem.

•    When you try to impress others, your heart feels empty.

•    Ask yourself: Given the choice, would I rather be famous-and-miserable, or satisfied-and-unknown?

•    Chasing after recognition destroys your ability to be who you are.

•    When you get the urge to toot your own horn, ask yourself: Who am I trying to impress?

•    Even if you convince people that you´re the greatest person in the world, have you convinced yourself.


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