Sing to your own tune

The film was utter rubbish but my friends all loved it. I couldn’t understand why. But the most concerning thing was that, as they tried to convince me just how good it was, I started to believe them. Maybe I’d missed some vital element in the film. Maybe I’m just not as smart as I think I am.

When it comes to matters of opinion, we tend to look outside of ourselves first before we have the confidence to form our own. It’s as if we need the validation from others before we can make a decision. Whether or not we’ll admit it to ourselves, many of us are strongly influenced by what others believe. We lack confidence when it comes to standing up for what we really think.

But when it comes to opinions there is no right and wrong – our opinion is based upon our knowledge and our perspective so why do we let others’ opinions overpower our own unique perspective on the world?

When we care too much about what others think about us too, we allow it to affect our lives and influence our self-esteem. Get called a “loser” often enough and we’ll start to feel like one, even if that’s not what we really think.

To see others’ opinions as more valuable than our own is giving away our power but we do it anyway. We cannot seem to help it.

The stoic, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his collection of personal writings:

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.” Meditations 12.4

But it’s so easy to be in this position. I had a situation not too long ago where a mum at my child’s school had taken a dislike to me, for some unfathomable reason, and I actually started to doubt my likeability. It took a lot of self-work and journal writing to get myself to realise that I was allowing this one individual to take my power. But why was I letting this happen?

In the place where my power should have been, instead there was fear. I should have shrugged it off but anxiety got the better of me. A fear that developed many years ago when I was at primary school when my best friend would find another best friend to play hopscotch with and I would be alone.

Fear is there to protect us and make us realise that we need to increase our own power. This power comes only from within us, and it helps us to weather the storms of day-to-day life.

But we can only weather the storm when our power is strong and stable and deep enough. Like the strong roots of a tree. The bigger our power roots are, the more wind (in the form of others’ judgements of us) they can withstand.

Unstable power comes from listening to others’ empty opinions of us and believing them. We can listen but it is only through knowing ourselves and the power we hold that enables us to stay strong and not tumble at the first sign of a gale.

Loa Tzu wrote “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”

When we listen and care about what others say about us we are allowing them to affect our sense of worth, which is tied up in their view of us. We are limited by their perception of us.

I held a job many years ago in which, foolishly, I enabled a colleague’s approval of my work to determine my sense of worth in the company. The colleague in question held much influence and because I didn’t pick up the job as quickly as she thought convenient, she wrote me off as incompetent. Pretty soon I felt incompetent and eventually I left because I felt that I lacked ability.

My power was diminished to such a level, that when I left the job it took a good few months to build it up again, along with my confidence. But, had I possessed a stronger inner power I would have been able to stand up to her like a warrior defending my land. Instead I was left feeling powerless and demoralised. I don’t blame her – I allowed her to take my power away from me.

When we care too much about others’ opinions and ruminate too much on them, the thoughts that result become destructive. Quite simply, we are sacrificing our own happiness for the approval of others.

But, paradoxically it takes power to resist others’ influence on your power. This power must come from inside. You cannot look to friends to give it to you. Unfortunately, other people don’t always have our best interests at heart, so you much seek that power within.

By all means seek the opinions and advice from others but ultimately, how you deal with any situation comes down to you. Learn to strengthen and use your power so that other people have no influence over you.

If we have personal power we act on our own intelligence, and whatever the outcome of our endeavours we know that we have acted with integrity. We have our own back, so to speak, and we don’t need others to approve of or validate us in any way. Ironically, that is when we are likely to be more influential over other people.

When we care too much about what other people think, it’s because we are afraid of being rejected. We all yearn to belong somewhere, because it makes us feel worthy, validated and accepted – to fit into society and into whatever ‘club’ we feel a sense of belonging to. But the person in whom we put all our power when we care too much about their approval, holds the key to the club.

In the job I just described, I wanted to belong, I very much wanted to belong. This company was in an industry I very much wanted to be in, and I saw my colleague as the gatekeeper. She could sense this power that I had unintentionally given her, and she abused it, simply because she could.

To try to endear yourself to others is to risk looking desperate and to give them your power on a plate with a salad garnish. It’s not good for your self-esteem and chances are they’ll dislike you even more for being so goddamn desperate.

It can be very difficult to simply stop caring about what other people think of us. After all, no one likes the idea that others dislike them. We want to feel as though we belong, it gives meaning to our lives, and if we belong we’ll know that we have people who have our back should life get difficult. But to do so at the expense of our own power means that we will always be singing to someone else’s tune.

Image: UBC Learning Commons Singing Cartoon