Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg): Give me a compliment.
Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons): Fine. You have very tiny hands.
Howard Wolowitz: No. About my job. I want you to tell me I'm good at what I do.
Sheldon Cooper: You're obviously good at what you do.
Howard Wolowitz: Well, then why are you always ripping on me?
Sheldon Cooper: Ah, I understand the confusion. I have never said that you are not good at what you do. It's just that what you do is not worth doing.
— The Big Bang Theory, S5-E21, 'The Hawking Excitation'
In the funny and whimsical universe of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) often pulls down his friend Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) for being an engineer and not a physicist with a doctorate like him or their two pals Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar). Never mind that Howard graduated from MIT, went to the International Space Station and came back an astronaut.
Sheldon, we are told, is somewhat peculiar and known for his blunt honesty, but he doesn't mean to be hurtful or malicious.
While Sheldon's cracks at Howard in the popular sitcom are intended for humour, they carry a useful lesson about self-worth—we need to find satisfaction in our own accomplishments rather than seek approval from others, whether they are friends, colleagues or society.
The problem is not seeking external validation, as we do for different reasons—such as a job well done, acing a presentation, winning an award, our physical appearance, superior knowledge, attaining a personal milestone or recognition on social media. It’s a natural instinct and in many ways compels us to do better than we did before. The problem is becoming obsessed with it to the point where we have less faith in our own capabilities and achievements and more in what others think of us. It kills the true essence of who we are and what we can do.
Unless it’s constructive criticism, we can use negative influences, such as the ones Sheldon directs towards Howard, to overcome criticism and build a positive self-belief and self-image. They serve as a reminder that we are responsible for our own professional fulfilment and, by extension, happiness at work.