Knowing when to care about what other people think

Dear Daughter,

One of the biggest struggles you’ll deal with in life, that you’re already dealing with, is choosing whether or not to care about what other people think of you.

On the one hand, you want to get feedback or constructive criticism from others because it makes you better, but on the other hand, dwelling on other people’s opinions of you can a) cause great anxiety, and b) make you start living for others instead of for yourself. So deciphering when it’s healthy to care and when it’s not is one of humanity’s greatest juggling acts.

I have a long history of worrying too much about how people perceive me, particularly in my teen and college years. If I found out that a person made fun of me for something, I’d stay awake for hours at night thinking about it. I’d spend an exorbitant amount of time anticipating how others would feel about my clothing, my actions or my decisions, and would often change what I originally set out to do because of their predicted reactions. I’d be afraid (and still am) to stand up for myself because I don’t want the other person to think I’m mean.

So, it’s safe to say I’m not qualified to give you advice on this subject. Except that, as I grow older, it gets a little easier. I’m learning that life is like a blink of the eye, and I simply don’t have time to worry about what others think. I need to invest my time into my family, my relationship with God, my work and my passions. That leaves little time for anything else.

But when is it okay to care about what others think? Because you do want to care a little bit. To do otherwise would make you a rude, selfish person. You want to have courtesy for others, particularly when you’re driving 45 mph in the left lane of the interstate and there’s a whole line of people behind you who have somewhere to be, dang it. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) Sometimes you really do have to put your own needs aside for the sake of others.

As for when people criticize you, ask yourself the following questions: Is this person a loved one who knows me well? Do they know the whole story behind why I did what I did? Is he or she a generally negative person? Will this criticism make me better or is it just a little setback that has no real impact on the big picture of my life?

By asking these questions, you will determine whether or not the feedback is worth listening to. If you decide it is, then take the core lesson from it, throw out the rest, and move on with your life. If it’s not worth listening to, then don’t. Throw it away in the little trash receptacle in your brain. (There is one, you know. I imagine it has a foot pedal to open it so you don’t have to touch the filthy thing.) This is easier said than done, but once you remove that toxin from your life, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you forget about it, and you’ll have thicker skin for the next time around.

There is so much more I could say about this subject, so I suppose there will be more letters to come. In the meantime, I encourage you to be your own person who is courteous of others but who also stands up for herself when necessary, who will take the good out of constructive criticism and will extricate the bad, never to be seen again.

Love,
Mom

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