It is your life, after all…

How to Stop Giving a F*ck What People Think.

If I had to ask you what the one thing that most commonly stopped you from pursuing your ambitions, your dreams, your goals was, what would the answer be? If I had to guess at what answers I’d get I’d say I’d get a smattering of “not enough time,” a bit of “not enough money/resources,” and some “don’t have the talent/skills.” Altogether, those three things would probably make up about 20% of the reasons I’d get. And I’d be willing to bet the other 80% would be some variation on concern over what others would think.

The linked article above is pretty good. People who know me well have heard me joke about what I call “the imaginary audience” a lot. The way I see it, it seems to me that people are either trying to avoid attention they don’t want or draw attention to themselves through obnoxious behavior. Why? Because in their heads they’re starring in a TV show being watched daily by millions. Some people want that audience to switch off and go away, and some want to make sure their ratings stay as high as possible.

The reality is, as the article linked above points out, that pretty much no one is paying attention to you very much at all… ever. Now let’s be extreme and say you’re in the elevator at work and you experience an uncharted gaseous anomaly (fart). In that instant you’re going to get a whole lot of attention, and justifiably so. But here’s where most people go off the rails – if you were in an elevator and someone loudly and toxically farted you would notice them. You’d probably tell someone else about it too. But then you’d be done. Your thoughts would move back to the thing everyone spends most of their time thinking about… themselves.

I have played in rock bands pretty much my entire life. Being in a rock band is being in the business of drawing attention to oneself. This is reason for outrageous clothing and hairstyles and pyrotechnics and sheer volume and for spending thousands upon thousands of hours practicing and practicing and practicing so you can be as brilliant as possible at your instrument. You are trying to be memorable. Here’s the thing though – it’s damned hard. Why? Because even when you make it your job to be noticed and unforgettable, people would rather use their minds to think about themselves.

This is why kajillions of dollars are spent to market products and TV shows and movies and music and books and sporting events and political campaigns. Effectively, unless you fart in the elevator over and over and over again no one really wants to pay any attention to you at all.

The only person watching that TV show you believe you are starring in every day, is you. Your ratings pretty much always suck. Even NBC would cancel you.

Now, if you’re someone who craves attention this is going to bum you out… a lot. Get over it. Seriously. If you’re the sort of person who worries what others think and you really absorb this idea, it’s liberating. Instead of being frightened by what people might think, realize they aren’t going to think of you much at all and just get busy with those things you’ve always wanted to do.

As the linked article above points out, we’re not talking about trivial stuff here. If you’ve got a burning desire to fart in an elevator, well, ok, knock yourself out. Want to dress in clown shoes? Um, ok. Sure. Fine. Don’t trip.

But that is not the point. The point is that if you’ve got a guiding set of values and principles that keep your engine going then you need to follow those. What really matters to you? What is your soul made out of? If you know what’s in the center of your being, what defines you and you’ve been folding that under and hiding it in a corner because you’re worried what the rest of the planet might say or think, well you need to change that. You need to let those values direct your choices and if someone objects let them, and take into consideration that it’s pretty unlikely they’ll expend much energy thinking about it beyond that one moment.

My grandmother once said something to me, when I was about 11 years old, that has stuck with me ever since. She had taken me to see a play in the city, and we were going to dinner beforehand. My grandmother was not a kindly, warm and loving grandma. She fancied herself the matriarch of a great line, and expected obedience. So it wasn’t surprising at all when she shared with me, over dinner, that I wasn’t her first choice as a theater date that evening. She’d invited one of my cousins, but they’d complained about going to dinner at the restaurant where reservations had already been made, and about the particular play they were going to see, so my grandmother called this cousin back and uninvited her. She said to me, “When we’re born, we get a ticket to the show. We do not get informed in advance of when the final curtain will be drawn. I don’t know how much life I get to live, and I’m not really interested in wasting any of the hours I do have on anyone who isn’t going to make those hours worth my while.”

Shortly thereafter I gave up caring what other people thought of me. As Popeye taught me as a kid, “I am what I am, and that’s all what I am.” My grandmother was concerned with how people treated her. I saw it a different way. I have things I want to accomplish – goals and dreams to pursue. If you’re going to obstruct those dreams, well, please go bother someone else. My life might be too short to fool with you. I don’t know. None of us do.

Don’t let fear of the opinions of others guide your choices. Your values and vision of your life should be what steers your course.

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