“Stop caring about what people think about you,” he said.
I replied, “it is easier said than done.”
It is not always easy to analyze the causes of our fears, but it is usually very necessary. In my personal fear analyses, I found that too many of my fears centered around what other people — friends, parents, coworkers, associates, strangers, haters — were going to think about me. I asked myself, “if they are not God, why the heck do I even care so much about what they think?” I didn’t always have the answer, but I knew something needed to change if I wanted to live a full life.
I have never been a person that completely bends over backwards to ensure that people love me, but as a normal human being I do have a certain preference for people liking rather than hating me. The truth is that fear, comparison, competition, doubt, and insecurity in some ways center around us caring about what other people think about us. In general, overcoming the concern about what others are thinking is a major factor and hurdle for and in our success.
Whether we care to admit it or not, other people’s standards and expectations sadly become a factor in our decision making. I believe that people who are more successful — and I would argue happier as well — have found a way to overcome the “what will people think” syndrome. Sometimes we miss out on the greatest adventures, opportunities, people, and experiences because we are overly concerned with what people will think about us and our decisions.
Although it is easier said than done, these are some of the conclusions that allow me to move beyond worrying about what people think of me:
Sometimes what you think they think is not even accurate.
While working at a very prestigious university some time ago, I was doing a good job but still felt slightly inadequate compared to what I thought were the geniuses I worked with. There were a number of opportunities to take more risks — some I did and others I did not — but I kept wondering what others would think about me if I stepped out in front, failed at a task, or took things in a new direction. To make a long story short, I was worried about them thinking I wasn’t qualified enough but the entire time they were thinking (I later learned) that I was doing great work, was very capable, and had a lot of potential to go even further. If you have ever experienced a time when you were certain you knew what someone else was thinking but ending up being wrong, then you have evidence that sometimes our worries are not always accurate. We cannot read minds so it makes little sense to be preoccupied and hindered by thoughts we may never know for sure.
Unfortunately, things are not always that positive; sometimes people are thinking negatively about us. In those cases, I use the following to help me move past the fear…
People are going to talk about you even if you are perfect.
From work to friendship circles to acquaintance gatherings, I cannot count the number of times in which we were all talking about how we love or like a person, place, or thing only to have one Negative Nancy (an expression, not a real person) chime in to share how much they do not like them or it. When asked for reasons why he/she did not like that person, place, or thing, they had absolutely no evidence to support their feelings! I can discuss the many reasons I think this happens, but it will never change the fact that people will have something to say about everything and everyone! God bless celebrities because we have never met most of them, yet we judge them like we own them! From these many experiences, I concluded that human beings are too complicated for me to ever prevent people from having an opinion about my life. I have been in situations were I felt I did everything right and someone still had something to say about it.
Sometimes people’s negative opinions about you are really just reflections of issues they have within themselves.
As you might have learned in a psychology course, sometimes people project their issues onto you. Sometimes people are thinking negatively about you simply because you remind them of what they are not or what they do not have. I remember when an old friend went on a rant about how I thought my boyfriend was the greatest guy on the planet. It was a very odd occurrence because I rarely talked about how deeply I was in love with him or ever mentioned much of any of the amazing things he did for me to her. She personally had a lot of issues going on in her life at the time, so I was quickly able to recognize that her comments stemmed from something else. Another instance came at work in which one woman tried to downplay the success of my work. She had a lot of social anxiety and insecurity (her own words) so I just assumed something about me reminded her of something she wasn’t happy about within herself. I have had my fair share of realizing that I don’t like someone simply because they have something I wish I did; so, I can speak with certainty when I say that you will never be able to control everyone liking, approving, or thinking positively about you. Sometimes the issues lie within the other person and out of your control.
The moral of the story: we should not allow our concern about what other people think of us to hinder us from taking opportunities, risks, or from striving for greater success. Since people are going to have an opinion no matter what you do, you would be crazy to wait around until everyone liked or agreed with you to make your move. It is probably impossible to completely stop caring about what people think of you, but you can work on getting to the point were the fear of opinions doesn’t prevent you from making a decision, taking a risk, or trying something new.
Photo Credit: Jenny Downing
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