11. Caring about what others think

There are a thousand articles out there providing advice on ‘how to stop caring what others think of you’.

Personally, I don’t believe that is particularly helpful advice. The reason I care what others think in the first place is because I have some level of emotional intelligence, and I regulate my actions to ensure I don’t cause undue offence (or leave them thinking I am slightly unhinged).

The problem is that I take this sensitivity a step too far, and care so much about what others think that it stops me from expressing myself or doing things that are important to me — like publishing my writing or making changes in my career — because I worry that others will think I’m foolish or silly or untalented.

However, I know that not only is there no way I can magically stop caring about what others think, but also that I don’t WANT to stop caring. The kind of people who really, truly don’t care what others think are the same people who throw loud parties when others are trying to sleep and cut in front of other drivers. I don’t want to be that person.

So how do I balance this with needing to let go of the fear of being judged and found lacking? Particularly now that I am deliberately exposing myself by making my writing public, an act that feels mildly akin to baring my soul to the world?

What I have found that helps me to move past this feeling is to:

1) Acknowledge that people might think I’m foolish or silly or untalented or <insert negative adjective here>

2) Feel kind of anxious and depressed about that for a few minutes

3) Take some deep breaths and remind myself that even if this is the case, there are many more people who don’t feel this way about me

4) Still feel pretty anxious and depressed

5) Have a revelation that there are basically 4 camps of people in the world:
- Ones who might think I’m awesome or might think I suck or might be totally neutral but like 99% of the world they will never actually bother to write their opinion online (I tend to fall into this camp. Also, 99% is a made up figure.)
- Ones who will say something supportive either because they actually believe it or because they’re just a nice person
- Ones who will write really horrible negative comments because they are trolls and like to suck value from the world or because they think they are constructively criticising but don’t seem to have the intellectual capacity to grasp what ‘constructive’ means
- Ones who write genuinely constructive criticism

6) Realise that of the opinions I actually receive, I really only care about the supportive ones and the ones that constructively criticise, because the other people are just kind of randomly mean to everyone

7) Feel just good enough about that fact that I am then able to take action and actually do something that might be judged

8) Realise that I can convince myself to do scary things while still ultimately caring about what other people think

Ok, so it’s not particularly inspiring advice. But sometimes, I think the best thing is to acknowledge that you care, figure out how to temporarily convince yourself that you don’t care THAT much — for long enough that you can get done what you need to get done — and then go back to your normal doubt-wracked self. Sure, it’s a battle you’ll have to fight again, but you’ll get better at it as time goes on.

So if you don’t think you can ever stop caring what others think — take heart! You don’t have to. I am living breathing proof of that :)


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