“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value of his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” Marcus Aurelius
Most of my life I’ve worried about what other people thought about me. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses, boyfriends – I’ve spent countless hours and an incredible amount of energy trying to be who other people wanted me to be. It never worked. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was always letting someone down.
I was told that I’m too smart, but also too naïve; too brash and outspoken, but also too shy. I’ve been characterized as someone who takes too many risks, as well as someone who is afraid to let go a little and enjoy life. I’ve been told I’m way too accommodating, yet also impossible to live with. Very accomplished, yet a complete failure.
Are you confused? So was I, for a while. And then I realized something very important.
They were all right. And they were all wrong.
Each of these very well-meaning people in my life were trying to help me become a better person in their own way, but they were seeing me through the filter of their own personal values, preferences and experiences – not mine. They judged me based on the small slices they saw, not me in my totality. Their frame of reference included only the “me” they saw in relation to (and sometimes in reaction to) themselves.
Other people’s opinions can be valuable tools; they can give us insight on our own behaviors and actions by showing us how we appear from the “outside.” (Sometimes good, sometimes bad.) But the trick is to remember that these are just very brief reactions from very different perspectives, and not some ultimate and unchanging truth.
We all need to find a place in life where we feel comfortable with ourselves, our decisions, our chosen paths. Whether we’re talking about a career, a relationship, or a lifestyle, at the end of the day we’re the only ones who can judge what is best for us, and we are the ones who have to live with those choices. If we’re lucky, we choose wisely and end up happier for it.
Accept other people’s assessments of you with a grain of salt, and remember what really counts is what you think of yourself. Go ahead – trust your gut, go with your instincts, and follow your ideals even if everyone else tells you you’re crazy. After all, no one knows you better than you.
photo by Nina Matthews