What Other People Think About You is None of Your Business
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” — Aristotle
How often have you made up a story about what someone else might be thinking about you?
If I talk about my new career venture, no one will take me seriously. They'll think I'm crazy for doing this. I'll just keep it to myself.
My mom will think I'm not a good parent if I quit my job and accept this new role that will require more hours. I think I'll just stay with this company (even though I hate it).
I have to leave work at 5 pm every day to pick up my kids from after-school care. My coworkers probably think I'm lazy and not pulling my weight.
We're all guilty of making up these elaborate stories about what other people think of us. But here's the thing - 99.9% of the time, people aren't thinking about you. They're too busy worrying about themselves and fretting about what other people think about them. I made up that statistic but, in my experience, it seems about right.
And here's another thing to ponder. Even if someone is judging you harshly or thinking something negative, it doesn't matter. What others think about you is none of your business.
Chances are, Judgy McJudgypants is just as worried as you are (maybe more) about what others think of them. We are all human we are all, to some extent, insecure. But we certainly have a choice as to whether or not we let the opinions of others - or the opinions we think others have - direct our actions and behaviors.
As a coach, I can tell you that almost every client I've worked with gets stuck, to some degree or another, because they worry too much about what other people think. They fear being criticized and judged for what they're doing and how they choose to live their lives. These fears can hold us back from living on our own terms and in line with our own values and vision.
Everyone, to some degree or another, is self-conscious and concerned about what other people think. And that's not all bad. Caring about what others think keeps us from saying something that may be hurtful or nudges us not to go grocery shopping in our threadbare pajamas and worn-out Ugg boots (at least some of us).
I know some people reading this may be able to truly say they don't care one drop what other people think of them. If you're one of those people, good on you. When I see you at the grocery store in your PJ's and fluffy shoes, I'll be sure to say hi.
If you're not one of those people, keep reading to find out how worrying too much about what others think is holding you back and what you can do about it.
Why Do We Care So Much About What Others Think?
The crux of why we care so much about what other people think about us comes down to vulnerability.
According to Brene Brown, vulnerability can be summed up as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."
When we expose ourselves to others by telling them our vision, hopes, dreams, career choices, parenting techniques, etc., we can't be certain of how they will react. And it feels bad to think that someone might make fun of us or judge us for our choices. We risk being ridiculed and feeling humiliated. We risk feeling vulnerable.
I don't do the topic of vulnerability justice the way Brene Brown can so I'll quote her again: "Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it."
Think about that. We end up hustling for our worthiness. Don't hustle for your worthiness. Instead, hustle for the life you want. Live the life you were meant to live - other people's opinions be damned.
Your Assumptions are Probably Wrong
An incredibly smart, talented, creative client that I worked with expressed that he was concerned other people wouldn't take him seriously if he told folks he was a _____________ (you fill in the blank here, could be any job/career/hobby). His perception was that his chosen career may not be seen as credible in the eyes of others. From my perspective, the fact that he was a _____________ was fabulously impressive and inspiring. And I had a feeling other people probably thought that as well.
So I challenged him to move away from one-track thinking to considering other possibilities. What if people think you being a _______________ is amazing? What if they wish they could do what you're doing? What if they secretly aspire to quit their 9-5 job and do what they love...just like you're working towards?
The fact is, it is very unlikely that anyone was judging him for being a ________________. More likely is that folks were admirable. Or....they didn't really care at all what he was up to. Sounds harsh but unless someone is a friend or family member, they probably don't dwell on the comings and goings of your life. They may, for a fleeting second, have an assumption about you (favorable or unfavorable), but those assumptions likely fade fast and people move on to worrying about what you are thinking about them!
Remember, unless you know for a fact that someone has certain feelings or thoughts towards you and your choices, everything you think is just an assumption. And your assumptions are probably wrong.
Worrying Too Much Gets You Stuck
When we start to rely on what other people think of us, we get into trouble. We begin to live our lives the way we think others believe we should live instead of honoring our own selves. When we let other peoples' opinions - or what we think are their opinions - get in the way, we can become stifled trying to live up to others' expectations (even if they have NO expectations of us at all because - again - they are not overly concerned with us!).
If you don't do something because you're worried about what other people will think then you're giving those other people an awful lot of power over you. Power they may not have even asked for or want.
Now I know a lot of people reading this will say, "Hang on, I have obligations to my family/friends so I can't always just do whatever I want to do." I get that. I'm a wife, mother of 3, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, and neighbor. I'm not saying that you shouldn't make some sacrifices or, at times, act in a selfless way. What I am saying is that you shouldn't let other people's opinions (real or perceived)- especially people you barely know - get in the way of living the life you want to live.
And remember - more often than not, it's you who is making up these stories about what other people probably think about you. When, in fact, I bet they aren't thinking about you at all.
How to Stop Worrying Too Much
It's not possible to stop caring altogether about what people think. Nor should we. It's natural and normal to want others to see you in a positive light. It's OK to want to be perceived as kind, caring, smart, motivated, 'my kids go to bed at a normal hour' kind of person.
But it is possible to worry too much and that can get you stuck.
Here's what you can do about it.
Challenge your assumptions. Realize that most of what you're worried about are probably just assumptions and those assumptions may or may not be true. It's likely you're making up, to some degree, what you think people are thinking about you. So don't waste your time and energy worrying about what other people think because they're probably not thinking it anyway.
Shift your mindset. Assume people are thinking positive instead of negative things about you. For example, Rosie's dad from school (whom you don't even really know but for some reason care about what he thinks) might be thinking, "Damn! I wish I had the confidence to start my own business and have more time with the kids" instead of "Damn! Jane is so silly for starting her own business. What was she thinking?" Allow yourself to imagine the best instead of the worst.
Practice acceptance. Accept that some people will have negative things to say about you and your choices. I firmly believe that most folks who are naysayers are probably just wishing they had the courage to take risks and live their lives by design instead of by chance. They might be criticizing and judging you and at the same time be wishing they could make changes in their own lives (but they're too worried about what others think to move forward).
Remember - you are the owner and architect of your life. Others might have opinions or ideas about you, but only you know what's best for you.
Don't ever let what someone else thinks dictate your choices or make you feel bad. Take full ownership of what you do and how you do it. Be proud of who you are, the choices you make, and all of your achievements.
And don't forget: What other people think about you is none of your business.