A few months ago when I was working with a client, we were talking about her big dream: she wanted to start her own business. We all have a big dream: our own business, writing a book, a creative endeavour, running a marathon, getting ‘that’ job, buying our first house, having children… whatever your dream may be, we each have that big goal that is ours.
I asked her, “what’s holding you back from taking the leap?”
Her answer wasn’t unlike others I’ve heard from other clients, friends, colleagues. We worry about what other people will think.
This fear is so legitimate that is has a name! Allodoxaphobia – the fear of other people’s opinions.
It makes sense. Rightly or wrongly, I put part of the blame on our traditional schooling system for drilling this into us from a young age. We’re graded on curves. Our value in the education system is based on a letter or a percentage, and then there’s that dreaded class average. We always know where we rank relative to our peers. And that’s just the educational side of school.
Then you consider the petrie dish of society that we see in elementary, junior high and high school. We care what our peers think of us. Are we wearing the right clothes? Do we have the right friends? Did I say something stupid? Is my hobby considered cool? Where am I on the social scale?
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You see how traditional schooling is foundational for cementing other people’s opinions of us? It takes a pretty strong family dynamic and parenting skills to help your kids overcome the social pressures of school to realize that other people’s opinions aren’t important. And that’s assuming that the parents have dealt with their own issues around other peoples’ opinions of them!
As a result, many of us suffer from this anxiety and fear right into our adult years.
Here’s the thing, if you’ve ever read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, you’ll have heard the core of this message before. Unless someone is in the arena with you, their opinion DOES NOT MATTER. That’s not to say that people aren’t ever flowing with their unsolicited opinions and telling you what you should or should not be doing, but unless they’re ‘in it’ with you, unless you’re sharing these experiences, their opinion doesn’t matter.
We can’t stop others from having opinions of us and what we do. I’m sure you have plenty of opinions about other people, even if you don’t articulate them, but what I’m saying is that other people’s opinions of you is none of your business.
When working with the client mentioned above, we ended up doing a little exercise where I had her cut out a piece of paper that was one inch by one inch. That was the piece of paper upon which she could write the names of the people whose opinions mattered about her business.
Do you know how many names she landed on?
One person’s opinion, beyond her own, mattered.
Imagine how freeing that is, to go from feeling like you’re afraid of doing something because of what other people will say, to deciding that only one person’s opinion is actually important to you.
Here’s the other thing that I’d say – your list should be short and it can change depending on what the topic is. For instance, there are certain peoples’ opinions that matter to me when it comes to work, or when it comes to parenting or when it comes to choices I make in how I live my life. There are very few people that fall into that Venn diagram whose opinion matters for all of the above, apart from my husband, and that’s because we’ve chosen to do life together. A choice I make in any of those areas directly affects him.
So, what do we do about all the people that offer their opinions to us without solicitation? You know who gets that a lot? New parents. New parents or expecting parents are BOMBARDED with opinions on how to raise children, even from those that don’t have kids. It’s fascinating.
I, for instance, receive a lot of advice from a certain individual (who shall remain nameless!) about how I parent my child. He watches too much TV! I shouldn’t wear a Baby Bjorn – it’ll ruin my back. My children shouldn’t use soothers! Bottle feeding is wrong.
At one point in my life, these comments drove me up the wall. I’m not going to say that they aren’t still irritating, but I’ve made the decision that this person’s opinion doesn’t matter. Sometimes people are just a part of your life. So, rather than do without the person, you need to decide how much you will let their opinion impact your happiness.
We can’t control other people, we can only control ourselves. We can’t always control our initial reactions, but we can take time to be reflective and make decisions that can alter future reactions. I used to have an initial anger when I got unsolicited parenting advice. Now, I often take a deep breath and shrug. It’s not quite water off a duck’s back, but each time it gets easier and easier and makes less and less of an impact on me.
My challenge to you is to take a hard look at the areas of your life where you’re bothered by people’s opinions, be it professional, personal or otherwise. Then, do as my client did and write down on a one inch by one inch piece of paper whose opinion TRULY matters to you.
I bet it’s a small list.
For anyone that is interested in working with me, I have space for one or two coaching clients at the moment. If you’d like to learn how we can decrease the stress in your life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free one-hour stress reduction strategy session.