Over the years, as my life has slowly transitioned from landfill to something more closely resembling “normal”, I credit one particular mindset with precipitating most of those changes: You can’t always believe everything you think! Setting aside for reconsideration everything I think I know about everything, while terrifying and self deflating, has always been the catalyst for discovering some new perspective on life. One old idea I had to examine and discard was the popular notion that what other people think about me is none of my business, that my own opinion of myself was the only one worthy of consideration. Sound familiar? I think many, if not most, believe this to be an absolute foundational truth. You may fall in that category, but hang in there with me and hear me out before you label me a heretic!
What I’m not saying: I agree that it is not healthy to go through life constantly worrying about the opinion and approval of others. Abraham Lincoln let us know, “You can please some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.” It’s attempting that last part that’ll drive you crazy! Where I think we’ve “thrown the baby out with the bath water” is adopting the idea that trying to please anyone at all is to be avoided at all costs.
So, are there any advantages to being concerned with what other people think about you? I’ll start by pointing out a few that should be obvious. If you want to keep your job and continue getting that paycheck, then what your boss thinks about you is your business! “Well, I’m my own boss! So I don’t have to worry about that!” Every successful entrepreneur knows that their business lives or dies by what others think about them. It’s called a reputation! Want a happy marriage? What your spouse thinks about you might be worth more than a cursory glance! How about you single folks? Disregarding how others see you will ensure a life alone. Are having friends important to you? Spoiler Alert: If other people don’t like you just the way you are…maybe your not likeable! Last but not least; if you have children…I think you get the idea!
Now, what about what I think of me? I used to think I was a pretty good judge of character. I’ve realized that’s not entirely accurate. I’m a pretty good judge of your character, but when it comes to honest self appraisal…not so much! Years ago, while I was right in the middle of painting a very flattering description of myself, a friend stopped me dead in my tracks, “Greg, while you judge yourself by your intentions, the rest of us can only see your actions.” That was the first time I saw myself for who I truly was, and it wasn’t pretty. In the area of personal growth and character building, setting goals for who you want to be is of no value unless you first determine who you are right now. Seeing yourself through other’s eyes, or better yet, asking someone who loves you enough to tell you the truth about you, is the best way to find that “You Are Here” spot on the shopping mall map of life!
One last little story: You may think I’m being a overly dramatic here, but I’m convinced that what some other people thought about me actually saved my life. At my lowest point in life, I was consumed with guilt, shame and self loathing. My long list of failures were so overwhelming, I determined that I was a failure. A well meaning counselor suggested I stand in front of a mirror and read some positive self affirmations. I gave it an honest try, choking back the revulsion I felt at my own reflection. After a few attempts of telling me how wonderful I was, I looked myself right in the eye and said, “Your full of crap.” (I didn’t really say crap, but I’m trying to keep it clean here) If the only opinion that mattered was my own, then, in my opinion, I wasn’t worth giving another chance. In that place of hopelessness, someone asked if I could think of anyone who had loved me unconditionally. I immediately thought of my grandfather. Although he’d been dead for many years, I knew that, even though he would be disappointed and saddened by the choices I’d made, he would still love me and believe in me. He was one person who’s opinion I valued, and if he would never give up on me then, just maybe, there was something in me worth saving. Not to long after that, an old friend invited me to church. As the preacher reminded me of God’s unconditional love, I wept as only a prodigal son can. After the service, a dear lady named Sandra Jenkins, approached me, grabbed both my hands in hers, and with a beautiful smile said, “You keep coming back. We need you here.” The crazy thing is that for some reason I believed her! I didn’t even know her, but what she thought of me was incomparably more important than what I thought of myself. Well, I kept coming back! It was there I met one of my best friends, Leon Barnes, who has been a great encourager, teacher and mentor. He still tells me when I’m full of it! Do I care what he thinks of me? Absolutely! I also met my wife in that little country church. Somehow she fell in love with the unlovable and still believes in me way more than I believe in myself. Call it co-dependency if you want, but she’s convinced me that I’m a pretty good guy! I’m not going to argue with her!
I hope this has given you a some food for thought. It might be worth considering to give the opinion of others a little more credit! And remember, you can’t always believe everything you think!
I do care what you think! So please feel free to leave some thoughts, feedback or questions in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you!