Who Cares What Everyone Else Thinks? (I do)
I am rarely on time. It used to really bother me. Even when I would think I was going to be early, something would happen and I would be barely on time, or late. Never is this more apparent than when I have to drop my daughter off at school. Some mornings, we keep it together enough for her to arrive early and get there for recess. Sometimes, just at the first bell. But as the year wears on, inevitably, we would slide into Home as the late bell was ringing. We would always make it just in time. I would still usually stop at the office and sign her in, just in case.
One morning, just a year ago, was one of the most humiliating moments of my adult life. I signed Sophie in at 8:31 am, one minute late. The assistant principal came out of her office and started to leave, but stopped when she noticed us standing there.
First, she singled out Sophie, "You're late quite often, aren't you?"
Sophie shrugged and looked at me. "Sometimes," she said.
The lady looked at me. I became an instant deer in headlights. "Oh, no, oh, no!" was all I could think. Then came the barrage of questions: Was there a reason for this lateness? An unfortunate hardship the school didn't know about? Did I simply not care about the importance of timeliness in an educational setting?
"No," I stammered. My face was on fire and my eyes were swimming with tears. I said the first lame thing that popped into my mind. "I just have several people to get ready in the morning." As I stared at her, mouth hanging open, she proceeded to berate me for bringing my child to school late, compromising Sophie's academic career, and making her teacher's job harder to do . . . in front of of several school staff members and several parents and children who came into the office after I did (technically making them later than me). Then, without even a backwards glance, she left the office.
I laid the plastic-flower topped pen down and gulped back my tears, took Sophie's hand, and left the office.
Sophie, bless her, simply said, "It's okay, Mom, don't let the Dragon Lady get you down."
It took me a long time to want to go back in that office. To this day, I still cringe when I see the lady who gave my my public dressing down. The rest of that day was spent reassuring myself I wasn't destroying my child's education because of my personal fault: lateness. Questions floated through my mind all day: Am I disrespectful and rude? Is my child suffering because of me? Do all the people in that office think I'm a bad parent? And so on...
You see, I care what other people think. A Lot.
Here are some quotes I found related to the Google search term "what everyone else thinks." You might be familiar with some of these: they are often written in a catchy font over a sparkly background and shared on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
Joyce Meyer said, "You can not live your life just based on what everyone else thinks."
Nishan Panwar said, "The biggest mistake people make in life is to worry what everyone else thinks."
Even Oprah Winfrey has weighed in on this issue, "If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart."
Another popular quote: What everyone else thinks is none of your damn business!
I have always been too concerned with what everyone else thinks and, more importantly, what everyone else thinks of me. Is this you, too?
My over-investment in other people's opinions is nothing new. One incident in a school office over being one minute late was enough to knock me down several pegs. But I had sort of an "A-ha" moment the other day. Luke and I were having a conversation that, for one of the first times I can remember, really made the danger of this type of thinking crystal clear.
We have been talking for a week or so about getting another dog, and we don't exactly see eye-to-eye on the issue. I am happy with our "one-Boxer" household. He has his heart set on getting another Dalmatian (he's owned several). Not just any Dalmatian, but a puppy to boot. I have been working very hard on not appearing to be as against this "new dog" idea as I really am. In fact, I realized I didn't want to tell him I felt guilty that I wasn't excited about getting a dog, and I (subconsciously) didn't want him to think I am a bad person because I told him how I really feel.
He thought I was worried about having to take care of the dog when he and the kids wear out the newness, but I had to fess up that I am actually worried I will not like the dog. I have had dogs in the past (one being a Dalmatian) that I simply clashed with, personality-wise, and each time it happened I would feel terrible about it, because it's not like it's the dog's fault. On the flip side of that, a couple of the animals I've had that I really enjoyed passed on as really young pets in rather tragic ways, and I was also worried if I got attached, something would happen.
The problem here was that I was so anxious over this issue and unwilling to honestly state my opinions about it that I was causing it to become a BIG elephant-sized issue instead of a little one. My fear was that Luke would forever look back on this point in our life and say something like, "Yeah, I really wanted to get a cute little Dalmatian puppy, but Jaime threw such a fit I couldn't get one." Not only was I scared about what he'd think when I stated my opinion, but I discovered that over the course of my life, I've been conditioned to behave according to two principles:
- I cared so much about other people's thoughts and opinions that I was hesitant to state my own.
- I was convinced that if my opinion conflicted with another person's, my opinion automatically didn't matter!
Have you ever been faced with a realization about yourself that startled you? That was so accurate and eye-opening that you wonder how you existed before knowing this? (I believe this is probably what's referred to as an epiphany.)
My epiphany: I had been letting my hang up about valuing other people's thoughts and opinions over my own shape my life!
From the time I was a small child, I can remember being caught up in thoughts about other people that sounded like, "Are they happy?" "Do they like me?" and "Maybe if I [insert random action here], it will cheer them up, make them less sad, or calm them down." I learned that keeping my mouth shut kept things calm and helped me avoid drama and conflict, two things I hated most of all. But never in my thoughts did I question, "What's my opinion here?" If another person thinks this or says that, okay, but when did I decide it was okay to strike myself completely out of the conversation?
In placing heaps of importance on the actions and thoughts of other people, especially those who I felt I had to please, I didn't understand or value what was in my own head. I usually snuffed out my own feelings or pushed them down so far that I didn't have to deal with them.
Don't do this, people! Do you want to know what this eventually does? After years and years of ignoring your own thoughts and feelings, they'll start to come out anyway, and it will scare the hell out of you! Talk about a nightmare for a person who worries what others think! Suddenly, you're having these strong feelings like anger or frustration, or sadness, and you're:
- Embarrassed or confused that you feel the way you do.
- Unable to hold what you're thinking and feeling inside, so you're having to deal with the aftermath of saying what's really in your heart and in your head.
Now I understand for many of you, this is not really an issue. You may notice or understand what other people think about you, but you let it have little to no impact on your own life decisions. You might not, as the quote said, give a damn what anyone else thinks.
Eventually, all of us will reach the point when we ask ourselves, "Why do I care? Who cares if they think that? Let them. This is my life, not theirs!" Some people learn this in preschool, some after many years of adulthood, and some . . . maybe never. I'm 36 and I'm in the process of finally learning this for myself.
The truth is, you have absolutely no control over what another person thinks. You could, in theory, bend over backwards, do nice things, say nice things, and be there for a particular person, and if they don't like you, for whatever reason, they're still not going to like you. They may think you're trying to get something out of them, or that you're being fake. No matter how hard you work to change their thoughts about you -- you can't. And then you just wasted a bunch of time and energy on something that isn't adding anything positive to your life.
That assistant principal? My daughter still goes to that school. I was still late last year. Other times I was early, and sometimes I was on time. Does she look at me when she sees me and think to herself, "There's that disgraceful mother who doesn't care enough to get her kid to school on time?" Maybe. Or maybe she doesn't even remember that particular encounter. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she thinks, "There's the mom of that little girl with the cute short hair." Who knows? I don't, because I've never asked her. Does it have an impact on my day-to-day life, what she thinks of me? No. Does it make me think about the impact a late person has on others and make me try harder to be more responsible for arriving on time? Yes. But even so, I'm still going to be late sometimes, and that's just how it is.
The biggest lesson here, for me at least, is that you can only control what you think. So the next time you catch yourself worrying about another person's thoughts or opinions about you, remind yourself that you're not psychic and can't read their thoughts, and even if you could, it's not your job to change those thoughts, or act according to those thoughts.
Your job is to be you, regardless what anyone else thinks of that.
P.S. - Puppy note: We ARE getting the puppy. After Luke and I discussed the issue and he got me to tell him what was really bothering me about it, he said the magical words: "I get it and it's okay you feel that way." We discussed compromises and how we would handle certain issues, and suddenly the elephant-sized issue shrank to normal size again. In fact, there is a tiny part of me that is excited. Shhhhh...!
Do you care what others think? Or are you the type of person to do your thing regardless of the opinions of others? Do you have any suggestions for those of us who care too much what others think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Photo credit: Life of Pix.com/