Do you care too much what other people think?
There is a kind of fear that is particularly human. It is not fear of the long-toothed creature that is about to have us for dinner. It is fear of our own imaginings, things that may or may not happen, inconsequential things like what other people may think of us. Most of these fears never materialize, and even if they do, most of the consequences are not important.
Let’s focus particularly on the fear of what other people might think of us. Have you ever thought, “I’d love to do x, but they’ll think I’ve gone crazy”.
First of all, who are “they”? Are “they” anybody that matters to you? Or are they just a nebulous, anonymous “they”, an imaginary Greek chorus, that maybe actually represents your own fears. Are you afraid to allow yourself this chance at happiness?
Second, is this fear reassuringly familiar to you? If you’ve always minded what other people think of you, then being fearful of their opinions has become part of your comfort zone. So now you’ve got two layers of fear going on – fear of trying something new, plus fear of what people will think of you for attempting it. It’s natural to be apprehensive about a new endeavour – that is a healthy, creative tension that reassures you that you are pushing your boundaries and growing as a person. But you don’t need that additional level of fear, the fear of others’ opinions. There is no upside to that one. Let it go.
Third, whose life is it anyway? What enabled me to let go of my fears of other people’s opinions (which used to bother me FAR too much) was that I found I was even more afraid of something else – I was horrified by the idea that I might reach the end of my life and look back and think, “oh dear, that wasn’t really what I wanted”. When I did that life changing exercise and wrote two versions of my own obituary, I realized that living my life according to what I thought other people expected was leading me down a pathway to disappointment. I had to let go of caring about what they thought, in order to allow myself to flourish.
Try asking yourself: what is the worst that can happen? Suppose that “they” do accuse you of being crazy – so what? This says more about them than it does about you. Maybe they are envious of your courage and boldness. Maybe they wish they had the guts to follow their dream. Maybe you’ve made them uncomfortable, because you’ve challenged their preconceptions about what is possible, and destroyed their excuses for living a life of mediocrity.
Think of somebody who has criticized you in the past. Do they seem like a positive and happy person? If not, why does their opinion matter so much to you?
For a compelling assertion of this, check out this 10 minute recording from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
In most cases, we wouldn’t be afraid to fail if there was nobody to witness our failure. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray doesn’t care if he messes up a thousand different ways in his attempts to woo Andy McDowell because the next day (actually the same day) everybody else will have forgotten what he did and he can try a different strategy. Effectively, there are no witnesses to his failure.
What would you dare to try if nobody would remember your failures? Truth is, most people are too preoccupied with their own lives to really care about what you’re doing.
I’d like to suggest that much worse than putting a few noses out of joint would be to reach the end of your life and look back with regret, wishing for what might have been, if only you hadn’t minded so much about what other people thought. It’s YOUR life – live it!