I Don’t Care What Other People Think (Or, The Lies I Tell Myself)

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. For that I apologize. I committed to writing more regularly and then I let life get in the way. I’ve had plenty to write about…I always do. But things have been so busy the last month or two, I haven’t made the time to sit down and make sense of what is going on inside my head and heart. Today the writing has grabbed hold of me. I kept trying to get other things done, but the pull to write was stronger. It’s like a persistent toddler who won’t stop asking until it gets what it wants. Today, writing gets its way.

For most of my life, I have thought of myself as someone who doesn’t particularly care what other people think. And to some extent that’s true. I have my beliefs and ideas and they aren’t always mainstream. I am a west coast, tree-hugging, hippie type who just wants to make the world a better place. But I realized recently I go to great lengths to control how other people feel about me. That bothers me. Because in doing so, I’m not being my authentic self. And I don’t think I saw it so clearly until now.

How often do you hold back because you’re afraid of what someone will think of you? Be honest. If you’re like me, you try to tell yourself you don’t care, but that would be a lie. How do I know? Because recently I caught myself doing that very thing. You’d think at 44, I’d be long past worrying about what people think of me. I can talk myself into believing that’s not really what I’m doing (more lies). But when you get right down to it, I don’t want people to be upset with me.

Let me back up. Last week was my ex-boyfriend’s father’s birthday. I baked him cookies because I thought he would enjoy a treat. I made the time to go to the store, get the ingredients, bake the cookies and package them up. And then I sat with the box all ready to ship, dreading taking it to the post office. I was so anxious about it, I literally felt like I could throw up. I knew once I dropped it off there’d be no turning back. And my fear was my ex-boyfriend would be upset with me for sending something to his dad.

If I’m completely honest, I have thought about sending his dad cards or treats for more than a year…ever since we broke up. I think about it on his dad’s birthday, during the holidays, Father’s Day. I enjoy baking and I know he would enjoy the treats. I’d like him to know I’m thinking of him. And yet, for an entire year I did nothing out fear of how my actions would be perceived. Would my ex think I’m just trying to get in good with his family? Would he be mad I’m still in touch with them? Would I get a nasty email?

Why do I care? That’s a very good question. If I choose to do something that deep down feels right to me, I shouldn’t worry about how other people react to it, right? But I do. And if I take a step back, I can see all the other places in my life where I’m doing this very same thing.  With friends, my family, my job. Not being my full self-expression because someone else might not like it. Now that I’m paying attention, the examples are really starting to pile up.

With it showing up in so many areas of my life, I had to ask myself, what’s this really about? And I can see I’m trying to control the way people feel about me. This is where my strengths of compassion and empathy can turn into weaknesses. Because I don’t want to hurt or upset anyone, I can sometimes care more about what others think, than what I know is true for me. I’m human…and I want people to like me. But I can’t let that need to be liked turn me into someone I’m not.

I realize people aren’t always going to agree with me. And not everyone is going to like me. This is where the courage to be authentic comes in. If my intention, in anything I do, is to be true to myself, I can’t worry about how other people take it. That’s their stuff, not mine. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I just can’t let it affect my choices. The path to authenticity is not always easy and sometimes it’s very lonely. But becoming more myself has its own rewards. More clarity, more peace, more confidence. And if I stick to it, I’ll find the me I’ve always known I could be.