Do you care what people think?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever done any of the following:
1. Uploaded a heavily filtered and cropped photo to Instagram,specifically designed to make your life look a bit more, uh, photogenic than it really is
2. Bought something you couldn’t really afford because everyone else was buying it
3. Didn’t take the risk or send the application or buy the ticket because you were afraid of what ‘they’ might think
Guilty! Me! I’m raising my hand right now, too!
It’s human nature to want people to think well of us. It’s only normal to cringe when someone throws criticism or judgment our way. And it’s easy to fall into the habit of living our lives in a way that attracts as little criticism and friction as possible.
That’s also a recipe for a deeply unsatisfying trip around the sun.
I know about this because I’ve spent the last eight years sharing my life with the internet. When I interview someone who pursues a non-traditional lifestyle, trolls happen. When I share ideas for navigating a heartbreaking current event, trolls happen. When I create a calendar of my cat wearing costumes, trolls happen.
Just kidding about that last one! Cats in outfits are amazing and universally beloved!
I’m not telling you this in a bid for sympathy. It’s a professional hazard! Everyone should be so lucky that the “hardest” aspect of their job is blocking someone on Facebook.
What I’m saying is: After eight years, 2,000+ blog posts, and many, many strangers weighing in on my life choices, I’ve gotten pretty good at not caring what people think (or at least caring way, way less than I used to.)
5 ways to not care what people think (or at least care a lot less)
1. Make incredibly intentional choices
I thought long and hard about my decision to leave teaching for blogging. I really, really considered my choices to give up my apartment and travel for months at a time, drive my uncool car into the ground, and marry a divorcee with two kids. If someone challenges any of these decisions, I’ll shrug and say “It was the right choice for me,” before happily taking my uncool car on a solo roadtrip. I have complete conviction in those decisions and couldn’t possibly care less if someone doesn’t agree with them.
I put, uh, significantly less thought into many of my meals, the grooming of my cat, and the outfit I’m wearing right now. Consequently, if you tease me about this faded sundress or my disheveled and yowly cat, I’ll probably feel self-conscious and spend a few moments gnawing on my insecurities about my current style choices.
And I imagine that’s true for you, too! When you’ve really thought through your decision and you’re positive it’s the right one for you, other people’s unsolicited input ceases to matter. It’s when we can’t explain ourselves and aren’t sure that we waver and stammer.
2. Use your awesome as armor
Imagine for a moment that you’re training for a triathlon. Six days a week you’re running, swimming, biking, slowing carving down your times and molding yourself into the athlete you’ve always wanted to be. Now imagine that your passive-aggressive co-worker makes a snarky comment about your haircut.
You’re breaking personal records! You’re building muscles in new places! You’re too busy being awesome to care what Cathy In Accounting thinks about your bangs.Stop caring what people think. Use your awesome as armor. Click To Tweet
Who cares if your neighbor doesn’t like your lawn ornaments? You’re too busy writing your novel to bother with her sneers. Your aunt thinks you should settle down and get married? Sorry, can’t talk right now, writing grants for world-changing initiatives. Some a-hole on Tinder thinks your thighs are too thick? THEY GOT THIS WAY FROM RUNNING MARATHONS, MY DUDE.
We’ve all done hard, awesome, impressive things. Keep your accomplishments at the forefront of your mind when you’re struggling with self-doubt. Wear your awesome like a suit of armor. When you’ve done something huge and difficult, silly judgments matter less. The edges on judgment have been rounded. The barbs have been sanded down.
3. Choose your inner circle carefully
It’s much easier to let criticism roll off your back if you’ve created an inner circle of smart, inspiring, call-me-anytime, I’ve-got-your-back friends. (This is how to make friends as an adult!) Who cares if some Internet Person said they didn’t like your face? Your partner thinks you’re gorgeous, your best friend thinks you’re amazing, and your Mom thinks you hung the moon.
This is not to say you should surround yourself with mindless yes-bots who never, ever challenge you or call you on your ish. That’s not good for anybody. But it IS possible to create a tribe of positive, non-judgmental people who truly want you to be happy, even if your ‘happy’ is different than theirs.
4. Create a Judgment Survival Kit
When you inevitably face judgment or snark, it’s nice to have a safe, supportive space to land.
Do people reply to your email newsletter with exclamation points and heart-eye emojis? Put those responses in a designated folder. Do your students give you thank you notes? Tuck them away and re-read them before you see that cousin who thinks teachers are overpaid babysitters. Do your clients tell you they couldn’t imagine business without you? Read those emails when someone makes a joke about how freelancers don’t really work.
Other things you might include in your Judgment Survival Kit:
* Some great “I don’t care what you think” quotes or images. My favorite burn is from Coco Chanel: “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”
* Negative reviews of pieces of art/literature/film you love. They’re a good reminder that everyone has critics! I love the One Star Book Review blog and this round up of one-star reviews of classic movies.
* Any articles about your heros’ rejections or critics. J. K. Rowling was told to keep her day job. There’s an actual blog entitled Cherylstrayedisaliar.blogspot.com. Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Madeleine Albright have been called too many unkind names to list here. That hasn’t stopped them from doing amazing things.
Tens of thousands of people criticized them and gave them unsolicited suggestions for how they should navigate their lives and careers. Each of them essentially said, “Bless your heart for thinking I care!” and then went on their badass way.
5. Know that people’s judgment is 95% about them and 5% about you
Your cousin wants you to settle down and get married because his marriage has brought him joy and fulfillment and he wants that for you. Your neighbor wishes you’d landscape better because she’s worried about her property values. Your co-worker judges your decision to go freelance because he hates his job and doesn’t have the guts to quit. Your friend judges your dating behavior because it’s different than hers and she’s worried you’re changing and evolving away from her.
Those things have almost nothing to do with you. Judgment is a blank canvas where people paint their insecurities, beliefs, and expectations. Click To Tweet
Does this mean you should ignore every piece of criticism that comes your way? No. Should you keep dating that unkind, unreliable fool everyone dislikes? Probably not. Is your friend right to nay-say your habit of drinking till you black out? Yes.
But there’s a difference between the intelligent, well-intentioned opinions of our nearest and dearest and the subconscious pressures of society in general. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss: Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
Do you care about what people think? If you’ve gotten past it, how’d you do it?