A handful of you are already stating with rebellious pride that you’ve never cared about what other people have thought. For the moment, let’s all agree to ignore that bit of self-denial and contend with reality: you do care about what people think.
And before you start telling me that you don’t care about what “I” think with your middle fingers set from stun to kill, let me agree with you. You probably don’t. My judgement of your personality flaws and life experiences might not mean anything to “you”. To someone else though, my judgement means the world. To someone else, my opinion of them matters. Perhaps even greatly.
Once again contending with reality, I want you to think of the person you “do” care about. It’s easy to claim you don’t care about what strangers think, or what your loosely-connected social network thinks so, please, stop this habit. This doesn’t impress anyone and, deep down, it doesn’t even impress yourself. I want you to focus with every single decibel of human frailty you have and think long and deep about the person / group of people whose opinion you both fear and revere with the magnitude of all of the heavens and earths combined.
And if you are not one for hyperbole, think about the people who cause emotions in you. Think about the person you feel you need to impress. Think about the person you hope never discovers the X, Y and absolutely shocking Z going on in your life. Think about the person you wish would respect you, admire you, and maybe even love you. Think about the person you simply want to make smile every day.
With that person in your mind, I want you to realize that the rest of the world views them as a stranger. The rest of the world doesn’t care about what they think. To you, they are important. To the rest of us, they are less interesting and less relevant then the type of coffee we might enjoy next week if we plan our routes to work correctly.
This person is not special at all.
It is your opinion of them that makes them special. Nothing you can ever do will convince the rest of the world that they are not just another person walking down the street that doesn’t know how to dress appropriately for the weather.
With that said, you may enjoy the way this person affects you. You may look up to this person, or draw upon them for inspiration. You may be in love with this person, or have an urge to protect this person. If they are affecting you positively, please, continue to hold them in such regard. Keep making them special with your thoughts and your mental energy.
But if this person makes you feel bad, you have a different task. If this person makes you feel ashamed, or guilty, or not worthy, or stupid, or any other negative adjectives, you must break free from the toxic hold you have given this person over your life. Somehow, this person has become a step in your decision-making process.
It is important to note that I am not trying to demonize whoever it is you are still thinking of. They don’t have to be a bad person to affect you so negatively. They may be the sweetest person in the world that honestly cares about you. Unfortunately, through a mixture of insecurities and cowardice, you can personally place even the nicest person on a pedestal of importance that gives them an unearned and unwarranted spot in your mind.
This person affects you the way they do because you inject their presence with relevance and meaning. Instead of looking at the mercurial, often hazy pool of personal reflection to identify and define yourself and your sense of worth, you looked to this person instead, growing ever-more reliant on them to answer questions you should be answering your self. Your mental and emotional energy dedicated to this person is allowing them unprecedented influence over your emotions and your life.
Ask yourself, are you ok with this?
Probably not. Unlike a stranger, it is probably not feasible or desirable to cut all ties from this person as a means to make yourself feel better. When a stranger tries to judge us or influence our lives negatively, it’s easy to whip our hair back and forth, Z-snapping every which way as we walk off unfazed. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do this with someone we already know. The solution to this problem lies within yourself, and that means it’s going to take courage and commitment to an idea for you to reclaim your sense of confidence and self-worth around this person.
This will be hard to do for the first time. You might feel as if you are being overly aggressive, or you might fear a rebuttal of anger or even fury from the person you are confronting. You might feel they deserve this influence over you. You may have somehow decided that their investment in you, perhaps as a parent or a friend or a partner, has warranted them a percentage of stock in your life. You may have once (or still do) relied on this person for support and now feel that disregarding their advice or ignoring their feelings isn’t fair.
This is just scratching the surface of the different combinations of crippling fears and doubts that might dissuade you from sticking up for yourself. I’m sure you can think of many more. All of these, however, have one thing in common. This trait is the seed that cowardly, miserable people are born from. This one aspect of thinking has lead to an infinite number of missed opportunities and squandered lives. I can think of no social fear more prevalent or more deeply routed in insecure people than the following kernel of absolute truth, that, if recognized and confronted will make you a happier person.
I’m sorry to say this…
This is, of course, the fear of upsetting someone. It’s what causes you to say sorry way too often. It’s what caused you to go to college even though you didn’t want to. It’s what caused you to get a degree in something you didn’t want to because your parents told you to. It’s what causes you to drag out a relationship you secretly wish ended months ago. It’s what causes you to stay in the job you hate and work the shifts you hate and get paid the wage you hate.
It is a fear not worthy of those who are so often stuck firmly within its grasp. It causes otherwise intelligent and confident people to ask for permission for things no one has the authority to permit or deny. We are ever reliant on the numbing glow of permission. We have grown so reliant, we artificially inflate normal people to levels of authority and importance, just so we can bask again in permission’s non-threatening rays.
After all, the consequence of upsetting someone is a negative one. They might yell, they might cry, they might curse your name and swear to never forgive you. They might disapprove with your decisions and wish you chose something else. All this might happen if you follow your heart and act in your best interest.
Maybe it’s not worth upsetting someone else. After all, isn’t it easier to upset yourself? Aren’t we far more comfortable disappointing ourselves in silent privacy? It is a sad realization, but an honest one; most people are more comfortable with self-loathing then they are with the possibility of a minor offense to someone else.
Offend as if your life depends on it.
And that is a big problem. I implore you to put yourself first. Think about your wants and your feelings. Satisfy those. Make yourself happy. Do exactly what it is you want to be doing and, literally, don’t think about what minor offenses it may cause or the ripples it might make within the peaceful stagnancy of those around you.
You need to start being selfish, no one else will do it for you. This will not make you obnoxious or mean. Acting upon your own interest is not being rude, nor is it being insensitive to others, it is simply living your life. The acceptance of your peers and loved ones is a luxury that is not your responsibility to ensure; your responsibility is to accept yourself and to make yourself proud. Those who care about you will accept you and those who you infuriate and disappoint will be revealed for what they really are; selfish people who are happier manipulating your life then seeing you live freely.
I’m not suggesting you stop caring about what people think. I’m suggesting you start caring about what “you” think.