“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.”
“A man said to the Universe: ‘I exist!’
‘However,’ replied the Universe, ‘this fact does not create a sense of obligation in me.”
Self-importance is the evil twin of significance.
Enforcing your opinion does not make you important. Most people yearn for a significant life. They want to know that their lives mattered. They want to know that they made a positive difference on this planet. The problem is that many of these people transform their desire to live a significant life into a desire to be more important than their peers. Instead of focusing on adding value and developing as a leader, these people focus on looking good. Instead of creating and connecting, these people consume and cut off. Self-important people equate their significance to their ability to show other people that they’re right. Understand: forcing other people to see and do things your way is not significance. True significance can only be achieved through inspiration. And no one can be forced to be inspired.
Leave a legacy, not a fairytale. A legacy is something of value handed down from one generation to the next. Your legacy is what you will leave behind you when you die. Whether it’s a child, a product, a service, a message, a way of doing things, or your own character, start adding value to it. If you want to leave a legacy, you must produce something so inspiring and valuable that it drives future generations to sustain it. Create something significant. Significance is passed on, not self-importance. It is impossible to leave a legacy when you are absorbed in your own importance. Looking good and having power cannot be passed on. When you die, anyone who listened to you because they feared you will not help you carry on your mission. Likewise, anyone who you manipulated into amplifying your message will drop it once they find out it’s fake. The only things self-important people pass on are fables warning the next generation how not to live. Their lives are lessons, not legacies. Don’t create a fairytale; instead, build something remarkable. Create something that will increase happiness and influence motivation for generations.
The Ultimatum Experiment
The ultimatum experiment is the end-all be-all of human interaction experiments. It has been used to draw conclusions in fields ranging from psychology, sociology, and biology, to engineering and economics. The experiment itself is simple enough to perform. Take two random people. Give one person $100 and ask him to give a proportion of the money to the second person. If the second person accepts the offered money, both people keep the portions that the first person allocated. If the second person rejects the offered money, neither person gets to keep anything. The study administrators prevent the participants from negotiating prior to the exchange and they make it clear that the experiment will only happen once. In other words, there’s no chance of the participants making a deal. The power over dividing up the money is solely in the hands of the first person. The power over whether or not the participants get to keep the money is entirely in the hands of the second person.
For years, the results of the experiment have been incredibly consistent. The average offer from the first participant to the second is $37. If the second participant receives less than $30, he will reject it most of the time. But why? Why would the first participant offer less than 50% of the money? Why would the second participant ever turn down any percentage of the money? Since the money is free and the only way to keep it is to make the second person happy, it seems the first person would be as fair as possible and just split the money down the middle. If making money was the goal, that would be the rational thing to do. Likewise, since a proposed offer cannot be undone and since rejecting the offer results in no money for anyone, it seems the second person would always accept whatever percentage was offered to him. Any other action would be illogical.
Self-importance derails rationality. In the experiment, the first person feels a stronger sense of power and importance when he has the money in his hands. As a result, the first person gives the second person as little money as possible. His aim is to offer just enough money to keep the second person from refusing. After the offer has been made, there’s a shift in the perceived power. Now, the second person feels more powerful and important because he gets to decide whether or not the first person keeps his money. As a result, the second person punishes the first if the offer is unfair. The majority of participants believe that teaching the first person a lesson is more important than making money. The critical point of the study is that both participants have equal power the entire time. Neither is more important than the other. Yet, both individuals try to exert their self-importance. They get sucked into an imaginary battle. The battle is imaginary because there are no spoils. Appearing important is not the reward of the experiment. Making money is the reward. But, for most people, looking good is the greatest victory.
The Biology Of Importance
Testosterone makes you take, oxytocin helps you give. Several variations of the ultimatum experiment have been performed. In one variation, study administrators artificially raised and lowered testosterone levels in people prior to performing the experiment. The study found that people with artificially raised testosterone levels, compared to themselves on placebo, offered 27% less money to the second person in the experiment and were more likely to punish the first person for being ungenerous. The study also found that offers from those with the lowest levels of testosterone were 560% more generous than offers made by those with the highest levels of testosterone. More than any other hormone, testosterone drives you to exert your self-importance. This is true for both men and women.
A second variation of the experiment showed that high levels of oxytocin increased the generosity of the first person’s offer. Oxytocin is a neurohypophysial hormone that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” because it is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breast-feeding, and plays a huge role in pair bonding. This hormone helps you increase your happiness and improve your self-esteem through connection. A third variation of the experiment showed that drunken participants were less likely than their sober peers to accept offers of less than 50% of the total. This result surprised many researchers who hypothesized that intoxicated individuals would care less about their self-importance and accept any amount of cash. Instead, alcohol dramatically enhanced people’s need to prove their importance and punish offers they considered unjust (duh).
There’s a difference between working to improve your self-confidence and working to prove your own importance. If you’re going into a situation where you think you might be driven to exert your self-importance, consider reducing your testosterone or increasing your oxytocin levels right before. This will help stay rational and balanced during difficult discussions. It will also prevent you from being baited into meaningless battles. The best ways to temporarily reduce your testosterone levels are to exercise intensely, have sex, eat soy (if you’re a woman), and spend time with women and babies (if you’re a man). The quickest ways to boost your oxytocin levels are to get a massage, hug someone, watch a sad movie, sing karaoke, eat chocolate, meditate, have sex, or surf Facebook (seriously). Using your biology to increase happiness and improve self-confidence prior a tense situation will help you stay focused on what’s really important. Also, it’s best if you’re sober.
Father Time Is More Important
Self-importance is a short-term victory. Below is a picture of the most important and least important men and women in history. This picture shows everyone who ever won an argument, lost an argument, proved someone wrong, was treated unfairly, hurt someone, or was hurt by someone. This picture shows everyone who ever started a feud, held a grudge, got away with something, or looked good in front of other people. This picture is a portrait of your future on Earth. Understand: you will never be more important than Father Time. He sits across from you waiting, silently counting down as you spend your energy protecting your image and engaging in battles that don’t matter. You only have one chance to leave your mark. You only have one moment to seize your destiny. You can’t put a dent in the universe and maintain a perfectly sculpted image at the same time. You have to choose one or the other. Choose wisely.
Image Versus Reputation
Throw your image under the bus. When I first started writing this blog, I was fixated on how it would appear to other people. I really wanted to look like a professional blogger and personal development coach. I wanted others to see me as the next Tim Ferris or Tony Robbins. I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to funnel people’s attention away from the real me. I posted ridiculous pictures of myself in business suits and created a biography page that was written entirely in the third person. I thought that was what the “professionals” did. The problem was I was obsessed with my image. Instead, I should have been focused on finding my voice and improving my reputation as a writer. Eventually, I took off my mask and revealed my true self. Moving from image to reputation takes time. The desire to create an image is natural when you’re entering uncharted territory in your life. This is especially true if the new territory requires you to expose a great deal of yourself to the world. Vulnerability is not easy, but it’s a necessary component of authenticity. The key is to realize when you’re trying to be something you’re not and to take responsibility for it by throwing your fake image under the bus.
Images fade, reputations endure. Self-important people are obsessed with image. They will sacrifice everything to sustain a dying image. The problem is that all images eventually disappear. Your image is only a representation of who you are; it is not the real you. Most people spend their entire lives constructing an image of someone important. They create a mask, or several masks, to wear in front of other people. These mask-wearers rely heavily on looking good, being right, and responding in a way that pleases their followers. Eventually, they get locked into their images and lose their real selves. When their images finally fade, they have no idea who they are or what they stand for. They’ve built a fairytale. As a result, the mask-wearers’ friends and fans quickly disappear. Creating an image is a waste of time. It is far better to build a reputation on who you really are and what you can really do. Of course, this doesn’t mean you never act as if. There are times when achieving your goal will require you to fake it before you make it. The point is you must back up the initial impressions you create with results. You must truly become the better person you’re trying to be.
Free yourself from the tyranny of image. Instead of constructing an image of how you want other people to see you, start developing a reputation for being the kind of person you want to be. Your reputation is a record of your achievement and reliability. It is both your personal profile and past performance history. Unlike images, your reputation doesn’t fit you into a box. Reputations allow for mistakes. Reputations are constantly being rebuilt and improved. This is because reputations move in one direction: forward. When you focus on reputation over image, you don’t have to fear the opinions of others. And you don’t have to put all your stock into looking good and enforcing your own opinions. Instead, you can focus on being your authentic self. Authenticity is inspiring. It is also liberating. Mistakes can shatter an image, but not a reputation. Your reputation is a learning process. If you error, simply own up to it, learn from it, and move forward. In my next post, I will show you how to embrace and leverage uncertainty.