How many times has someone said to you “It’s nothing personal, but…” or “No offense to you, however,…”? It hurts like a deep, open wound each time. The more we hear criticism that does not sound constructive, the more likely we are to own it and believe it. For instance, if your boss prefaces a negative comment with instructions to “not take it personally”, you know damn well you will. And you will likely internalize those comments, blending them with who you are. Suddenly, you are a product of your work. You are now only as good as the success you make. Your happiness now depends on what others say or believe about you, making it difficult to feel worthy. Your potential has been inevitably limited to what others perceive of you.
It sounds exhausting to try and keep pace with others surrounding us. Heck, I feel tired writing about it! Some of you may feel that feedback from others is a good thing. For some, what others say may assist in how we can improve and be our best selves. But most of the time, it is not useful and usually pretty unhealthy to rely on the opinions of our counterparts to feel alive. When feedback is diminished for any reason, we feel incomplete and the need to do something in order to maintain equilibrium.
So, why is it so important that we take what others say or believe so seriously? How do we know that anything others say is factual? Why is it that we want to so badly please others? Do we lose sight of what makes us truly happy if we are always looking outside ourselves for both pain and pleasure? Is it possible that we can be simply content; that is, feel satisfied, without external validation?
I do think that it is certainly possible to be more introspective and be the captains of our own ships. While we cannot always control or limit the number of comments or opinions others have of us, I do believe there is a way to navigate it safely. For example, perhaps you will keep in mind that you need to be more efficient at x, y, or z at your job. You can also evaluate your own performance on a given day. But in the end, you are not your job. You are very much yourself, without any role or identity – whether it’s being a parent or a spouse – holding you back.
Letting others take charge rarely works. Usually, it causes us to feel strained, stressed, and sometimes even sad. The next time that someone criticizes you or puts you down, you should wishing them well in return. Or perhaps you’ll choose to find your own mantra, which you’ll then repeat to yourself in times of need. Feel free to find your voice and take matters into your own hands.