This world of wellness and health, self-improvement and personal development, has an overarching focus on constant progress. It doesn’t have to be huge, and usually won’t be, but the goal in any arena is to consistently move forward, not just towards a desired end, but beyond that, to greater than your current goal. Funny thing about consistent progress, it’s only achieved with consistent work. It’s easy to learn a truth about your mindset and behavior and start new thought processes, the hard part comes when you have to spend the next 5 years rewiring. Often, as with anything in life, just when you think you’ve done it, something happens and you realize just how far you have to go.
I’m going to take this opportunity to be the object lesson for the week, and say right here, in print: I. Haven’t. Arrived.
As you may remember from past conversations, I have struggled with letting other people’s opinions negatively impact my life. From my outfits and language to my career and relationships, my interest in managing my public perception has kept me from being authentic, doing what I love, making new friends, being kind.
How something so impossible to control can cause a normally high-functioning, ambitious and authentic person temporary paralysis is baffling, and yet, I would hesitate in a moment of decision running through the myriad things I could do and how they may be perceived by this person or that one. In a truly mind-boggling experiment in futility I would get so trapped in thoughts of how Sharon will see my outfit choice, but forget Sharon, but am I wearing this because I know that Sharon with think thus and so, and now I’m dressing for Sharon but in an entirely different way.
Some days, I didn’t care. I was full of love, and feeling good and couldn’t give two shakes about what the world may think. But in moments of vulnerability or self-doubt the same old ideas would come back and I’d invest so much energy in ensuring people were thinking the right thoughts about me, there wasn’t any energy left for Operation Me.
I’ve been working on this for years now, ever since I realized how much it was impacting me and gave it a name. I didn’t realize how much I was expending on something that didn’t matter until I was sad and lonely and uncomfortable during a literal dream vacation. Once I realized what was bringing me down I could see just how ridiculous it was and started in on the work to change my mind and my behaviors. It’s been a journey, and I’ve made huge progress. Just the other day though, I remembered why I keep working on this stuff.
My company has been updating some of our computer programs and as the resident IT genius (one eye amongst the blind, mate) my time to shine had again arrived. I printed the update instructions knowing my coworkers would ask for them soon. I watched my inbox for details of the update to prepare for the adoring Luddites to start flocking my desk. I was feeling pretty good in my tech savvy, and then an IT rep showed up to help us with the upgrade. In one moment I went from anticipating a morning of people acknowledging my skills to one in which a much more experienced person treated me like I didn’t know how to take care of myself. Cue instant defensive mode.
Of course when he told me it was my computer’s turn for the upgrade I told him I could do it myself. I’m a smart, independent woman who don’t need no tech man! After all, the IT company had given us clear instructions on how to do this on our own. His offer not only didn’t give deference to my obviously advanced technological know-how (I can print stuff and in this office it makes me a genius), he was implying that I didn’t even know how to follow screenshots and click some buttons!
Thankfully I had a minute to just sit, look at the situation and have a think. It took all of thirty seconds for me to realize that I had only rejected the assistance of a professional because I wanted influence on what my coworkers and Tech Men the world over may potentially think of me. It took another two minutes to decide that my reputation as the guru was neither at risk nor worth maintaining at the cost of having to figure out my own computer upgrade and the very real possibility that I would botch it. I found the rep and somewhat apologetically gave him permission to do his job… Honestly, the fact that I call myself an adult is astounding sometimes.
In the daily battle of me vs my fear of what other people think, I won the battle, and you better believe I did a mental victory dance the whole time my computer was being upgraded. Of course it needed way more work than the basic instructions covered and I would never have been able to do it myself, further validation that I made the right choice. My need to manage others’ opinions was vanquished for another day, and I got a wake-up call six months in the making.
Other people will think what they will. You can do everything in your power to try to influence that opinion and be just as effective as if you did nothing. We are all only given 24 hours every day, how many of those are you going to spend guessing and second guessing how you will be perceived? It takes all we have to make this life the very best, most impactful, meaningful and beautiful life we can. There just isn’t any extra to waste on the thoughts of strangers and the judgements of others. Decide how to live a life of love, compassion, wellness and fulfillment, and then give it all you’ve got. Forget everything else.