The Difference Between Impressing Others and Being Truly Impressive
In Hindu mythology, Kubera, the yaksha king, was proud of his wealth.
One day, he visited Kailas, the abode of Lord Shiva, and saw Shiva’s pot-bellied, elephant-headed son, Ganesha, sitting beside Him.
“Ganesha clearly loves food, but Shiva cannot afford to feed Him to his Heart’s content,” he thought.
So as a favor, Kubera invited Ganesh to a meal. Ganesha accepted and visited Kubera’s palace. When food was served, Kubera said, “Eat all you want.”
Almost immediately, he began to regret his words. Ganesha kept eating and eating until the servants couldn’t serve Him fast enough. He entered the kitchen and ate everything there. Food had to be brought from the market, and even that finished in the blink of an eye. Kubera saw all his wealth dwindling.
But Ganesha was still hungry. He threatened to eat the yaksha king if He didn’t get enough food.
Kubera was frightened! But soon he realized he was being taught a lesson, and fell at Ganesha’s feet.
“You think food will satisfy hunger,” Ganesha said. “But food is finite and hunger infinite. My father seeks to outgrow hunger. That’s why I sit in his house, and not in yours.”
Here’s what’s remarkable about Kailas. It’s a snow-clad mountain peak where Shiva lives with his wife, Durga, and their children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. There is no grass or vegetation, but Shiva’s bull, Nandi, doesn’t mind. Nor does the bull fear the tigers and lions that serve as Durga’s transport. Kartikeya’s peacock doesn’t eat Shiva’s serpent who, in turn, doesn’t eat Ganesha’s rat.
No predator or prey, no anxiety about food or hunger. Because, as Ganesha said, His father has outgrown hunger, and everyone closely linked to Him has done the same.
Kubera tried to impress others. But Shiva is truly impressive.
What Would You Rather Be?
In his book Ego is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday wrote:
Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.
It’s easy to assume that they both are the same thing. But they’re as different as being a sheep in wolf’s clothing and actually being a wolf.
In trying to impress people, we focus on external, measurable things. No matter what we have, or how much we have, it isn’t enough. We keep wanting more and more… until we compromise what we stand for and can’t even recognize ourselves anymore.
Meanwhile, being impressive demands focusing on the intrinsic, intangible aspects that cannot be measured. We become better at our craft. We become better for people around us, and in the process, become better for our own selves.
Fussing over one’s reputation comes from a desire to impress people. But forging your character based on values like integrity and honor makes you impressive.
Lusting for fancy titles and designations comes from a desire to impress people. But doing top-notch work without trying to show off makes you impressive.
Wanting higher salaries to buy more possessions is solely for impressing others. But amassing wealth that gives you the freedom to do what you love, you’re impressive.
Sycophancy, hypocrisy, and faking knowledge could make people impress others for a short while. But compassion, empathy, humility, and genuine expertise that come from hands-on work, make you impressive.
Trying to be right all the time and acting like one has all the answers stems from a desire to impress. But having the courage to say “I don’t know,” asking questions, and being open to learning, makes you impressive.
Attaching your identity to your job makes you do things to impress others. Attaching it to traits like reliability, discipline, and consistency, make you impressive.
In the short term, it might appear that impressing people pays rich dividends. But it’s like a hot air balloon with a tiny hole—the air keeps escaping until the balloon can no longer fly.
But being truly impressive is like training your body. The results are almost invisible in the beginning. But the more you train, the stronger you get until you build a powerful body and mind.
Every person who made an impact in the world, worked in silence while the rest were busy trying to garner attention through shallow words and actions. Who is remembered today?
What you work on will work upon you. Work on things and make choices that align with your purpose and values and let you sleep peacefully at night.
You will become the master of your life rather than being its slave.
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