cover image The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying What People Think About You

The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying What People Think About You

Michael Gervais, with Kevin Lake. Harvard Business Review, $30 (224p) ISBN 978-1-64782-324-5

“When we give more value to other people’s opinions than our own, we live life on their terms, not ours,” according to performance psychologist Gervais’s repetitive debut. Case studies of famous individuals illustrate, with varying degrees of success, how vying for others’ approval can stymie personal growth and damage one’s mental health. For instance, Gervais suggests that champion swimmer Missy Franklin’s reliance on winning for self-validation left her distraught after underperforming at the 2016 Olympics. He’s less persuasive, however, in claiming that a despairing letter written by Beethoven as he was losing his hearing signaled the composer had “accepted his deafness” and stopped worrying about “external opinions,” which allegedly enabled him to create his late-period symphonies. To Gervais’s credit, he adds a bit of nuance to his central argument about not basing one’s self-worth on others’ approval when he contends that it can be beneficial to learn from criticism. Unfortunately, he otherwise does little to expand on his thesis, instead repeating the same point ad nauseam and buttressing it with superficial psychological observations (“Our interpretation of the opinions of others often reflects more about what’s inside us, and our own beliefs, than the opinion of the other person”). This is too slight to make an impact. (Nov.)