John Wooden famously said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching."
In other words, what do you do when there's no one to either praise or scold you?
It's a good definition of character, but there is one flaw:
If you have an exceptionally high opinion of your own opinion, then you are able to meaningful praise yourself for your own behavior when no one is watching, thus negating the idea that character is good behavior unrewarded, because you are able to reward yourself.
In short, it doesn't matter to you if someone is watching or not.
"I just picked up that piece of litter, even though I wasn't the one who tossed it on the ground. Great job, Matt!"
If this bit of self-assigned positive reinforcement is meaningful to you, Wooden's definition doesn't exactly hold up, because the presence of others becomes irrelevant. And when your opinion of yourself is even more important the opinions of others, the definition becomes even less meaningful.
For example, when a colleague is upset because his supervisor has rated him a four out of five on his annual review, I ask, "Do you think you were a five?"
"Yes," the colleague says. "I do."
"Then who cares what your supervisor thinks? If your rating isn't impacting your salary or job security, your own honest assessment of your performance is what matters most. Just say, 'I'm a five, damn it,' and move on."
This rarely makes a person feel better, because most reasonable, well-adjusted people do not possess exceedingly high opinions of their own opinions, and this is probably a good thing. For most people, the opinions of the public, superiors, loved ones, and/or authority figures carry more weight than their own opinion, especially when those opinions pertain to themselves.
I get it. It's normal to care deeply about the opinions of others.
Not everyone aggressively under-dresses for all occasions regardless of the opinions of others.
Not everyone stands in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people and shares the most embarrassing, shameful, and criminal moments from their life.
Not everyone can dribble a tee shot 17 feet down a hill and into a pond while a dozen golfers are watching and not give a damn.
Not everyone is willing to acknowledge that they possess a high opinion of their own opinion.
There is nothing wrong with concerning yourself with the opinions of others. It's normal and healthy, and I'm not saying that I don't care at all. My wife's opinion, for example, means a great deal to me, and the respect of my colleagues and the satisfaction of the parents of the students who I teach is something I strive to achieve. I also like it when my editor, my publisher, and especially my readers like the writing that I produce.
But I also believe in being kind to yourself. Valuing your own opinion of yourself. Meaningfully crediting yourself for a job well done when no one is watching or no one else agrees, and allowing that credit to be at least as important as the credit of others. I believe in allowing yourself to feel great about your performance even when your supervisor, your evaluator, your coach, your friends, or even your spouse disagree.
Praise and recognition from others is a lovely and precious thing, but it should be secondary to the praise that you offer yourself. The value of your own honest opinion of yourself should be at least equal to the opinion of others. if you're depending upon the praise and adulations of others, you're not going to be a happy person.
John Wooden's definition of character is a good one. It's true that we often don't act like our best selves when in private, and those who do are probably the best of us. But I also think it's true that a high opinion of your own opinion can help a person to act well in those private moments.
When you are kind enough to yourself to value self-praise as highly as public praise, Wooden's definition doesn't hold up. Perhaps I might revise it to something like this:
"The true test of a man's character is what he does when his most honest, unflinching self is watching."