I decided to start my series of personal growth posts with Not Caring What People Think. Not because I don’t, but because I do. As a matter of fact, each year before Rosh Hashana, I write a Cheshbon HaNefesh – an accounting of myself and my year (for the one I use, message me). In doing so, I always choose one or two things to work on for the following year. I try and choose things I see as a challenge for me- in other words I pick something I need a tikkun in. A tikkun is the part (or parts) of you that need repair.
This Elul I chose to work on not caring what people think of me. I knew by the end of the year I wouldn’t be perfect in this area, but I was hoping to make some strides.
Why did I choose this tikkun in particular?
Basically because of how difficult it was (and is) for me. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this challenge either. It’s so hard not to worry how other people will perceive or judge you, especially in certain situations (like writing a blog post).
So to tackle this challenge, I started by tuning into myself – trying to notice when I was caring what others thought. It was much more often than I even realized. What was interesting to me, was how much of the time it was like background noise. It seemed to be something that played with or without my notice or consent.
I tuned it as much as I could. Sometimes it became really ridiculous to me. When I noticed I even cared how I looked when workers were at our house to fix the AC or the plumbing, it became more apparent to me how much this pervasive thinking was overtaking my inner world. (It wasn’t as though I wanted to look phenomenal by the way. It was just that even then, in a particularly unimportant moment, where the parties involved most likely wouldn’t even notice me, I wondered what they would say if I looked like this or presented myself like that). It occurred to me that my own opinions of myself were becoming much more diluted in the face of my fears. This fear being of how others would judge or perceive me.
When I started tuning into my thoughts I realized that so much of my time was consumed with thoughts of what other people would think (and much less of what I thought). And these “other people” ranged from a random stranger to a friend to even my husband. I was so rarely free of the overbearing judgement of others in my head, I could barely begin to make decisions just based on me. And on top of it, worrying about others opinions was stressful (how about cleaning your whole house before people come over? Would the world end if they saw it wasn’t a magazine ad for cleanliness?)
At the end of the day the reality was, I was the one judging myself. I kept assuming I knew what other people’s judgements were and I very rarely assumed they were kind. Under that microscope, I had very little freedom.
Worrying what everyone else’s opinions of me was all the time made it nearly impossible to please anyone, least of all myself. Ultimately I decided I needed to make a change.
Two Mindsets for Uprooting this Challenge
I came up with two ways to counteract this “what people think” mindset.
- Test the thought. I learned to ask myself questions such as, 1.“Let’s say someone does think poorly, will I know that? If I would never know, can’t I just choose to think that they think well of me?” Since either way the judgement was being made up in my head, couldn’t I choose to see them as positive judges rather than negative ones? 2. “And if they DO have the audacity to say something rude, would I care? If they were actually that mean, wouldn’t I see them as just that- mean?” Think about it- if you’re driving and you think “oh no, the person behind me is going to be annoyed because I’m not making this left turn quick enough,” when that person does start honking and road-raging you, would’t you think there’s something wrong with them?? Once you confront the reality of the fear, its much less scary.
- Redirect. I learned to ask myself what I think. “Am I taking too long to make this left turn? I am trying to be safe for myself and my kids – so no I’m good.” And to ask what Hashem thinks. “Hashem would value safety over impatience.” And that’s it. If I like what I’m doing and I believe Hashem would, nothing else should matter.
Step one in all of this though is to notice the thoughts; to realize how much of the time you are thinking of what other people would think. You can’t even begin to win the battle without seeing the perpetrator. You may be surprised how often that little voice of “hmm, what will X think,” comes into your head, but the more you realize it the more you can confront it. I’m still working at this, but I’ve definitely grown. And while I continue to need growth in this area, I have learned – being authentically me means being free to live as authentically me, and not like anyone else.
If you can relate, let me know!