I spent years considering what other people would think of me before I made decisions. I worried about which college my mom and dad would approve of and which career path would make people want to be friends with me. Which one would make my family most proud. I always said I wanted to be like Quincy. A medical examiner who solved crime. Then, I worried if joining the Navy on a whim would make people think I was impulsive rather than brave.
As a result, I often found it difficult to make decisions and I rarely felt happy with my life. There were moments it almost seemed as if everyone else was making my decisions for me. Maybe that's why my Navy career was so important to me. Succeed or fail – it was mine to own.
When someone wrote a quote on the whiteboard at work, by Lao Tzu, it had a huge impact on me. He said, “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU NEED
When you’re making an important life decision, it’s natural to feel a bit confused or overwhelmed. You may bring in others in the hopes that they’ll guide you into making the best decision. Often, this is driven by a need for approval and a lack of confidence in yourself.
But everything you already need to make the right decision—the best decision for you—is within yourself. You know what you need. You know what option falls in line with your values. You know what will ultimately make you happiest.
GIVE YOURSELF SPACE TO GROW
While friends and family can sometimes be a great feedback loop, the truth is that most of your loved ones want you to stay safe. That means they’ll often discourage you from taking new leaps and experimenting. It’s not that they are trying to be unkind. They simply want to spare you disappointment and pain.
It’s hard to grow into the person you want to be if you’re always checking in with one hundred other “co-pilots” who weigh in on the various aspects of your life. The truth is, at some point, you must stop taking what everyone else wants into consideration. If you’re truly going to grow, you must give yourself the gift of space.
YOU CAN'T PLEASE EVERYONE
Another problem with constantly seeking approval from those around you is that all of the opinions you seek will rarely be in harmony. For example, you want to go back to college and finish your degree.
Your mom may be hugely supportive of this idea while your friend points out that your degree won’t help you on your current career path. Your husband may be concerned about you spending time away from the family.
In these situations, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder who you should listen to. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t please everyone. Sure, you might be able to please a few people sometimes. But you can’t satisfy everyone (and you don’t have to try!).
YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH THE RESULTS
Ultimately, you’re the one who has to live with the decisions that are made. You’re the one that bears out the consequences of your actions—regardless of who inspired or pushed you towards that path. It’s true that your family may have to live with the decisions you made as well, but ultimately responsibility falls on you.
This is why it’s so important to consider your choices carefully and block out the voices of others. These other people may love you and want what’s best for you, but they aren’t the ones that are living out that choice.
YOUR DREAMS ARE WORTH FIGHTING FOR
You have hopes, dreams, goals, and ambitions. Some of these may be big, bright beautiful dreams that you won’t pursue because you chose another path. But some of these dreams you may never pursue simply because you’re too busy listening to everyone else, instead of your own voice.
I had a job I loved, working for the VA. I was wrongfully terminated and reinstated. I had the option to return and seriously considered it. I liked my co-workers. My pay was great, and I loved the benefits the federal government provided. I loved using the analytical side of my brain, but I was shot down by management when I introduced new, better, more effective ways to do things. They were worried about efficiency first and effectiveness second.
Finally, I began to consider the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur. I talked to a few family members and friends to weigh in on her new decision.
Each one discouraged me from taking action for various reasons—the instability of the economy, the fact that the majority of new businesses fail, the health insurance package she could have if she returned, and the fact that she actually liked her co-workers.
I was almost ready to give up until my husband told me to fight for my new dream. He convinced me that taking action—even if my new career path didn’t work out—was better than forever living with the regret of not having tried.
And, now I get to build websites and do all the techy things I love while also using the creative side of my brain too. It’s a nice balance. And, I’m the CEO.
YOUR CREATIVITY IS UNLEASHED
When you let go of needing the approval of others and stop caring what they think, something amazing happens. Your own creativity is unleashed in exciting, new ways.
Now maybe you don’t consider yourself a creative person. You don’t paint or draw or write. But when you give yourself the freedom to walk away from the prison of opinion, then suddenly the world opens up with possibilities. You see all the things you could do and all the things you could become. Your life truly feels like your own!
YOU ARE FREE TO ACCEPT YOURSELF
After you let go of what other people think, you’re free to acknowledge who you truly are. You can step into your identity without worrying about what others think about who you are now.
You can stand there and proudly proclaim, “This is me.” There’s something profoundly satisfying about knowing who you are and accepting that person, flaws and all.
I wasn't popular in high school. I was known to be smart, but quiet and shy – chatty among my friends. I was often teased and bullied. I didn’t date. Looking back I realize I became the person the bullies invented in their minds.
When I went into the Navy, something magical happened. None of the people whose definition I was living by were around. I was able to define myself by who I wanted to be. Someone I knew I was. Suddenly I was the go-to girl in the classroom, and at work. My dance card was full and I had to turn down dates because I had too many offers. I was the one people wanted to be around, associate with, and call friend.
YOU REDEFINE SUCCESS
When you live by committee, someone else determines what “success” looks like. Maybe to your parents, success looks like a mortgage and two kids. Perhaps to your cousins, success looks like a prestigious law degree and a corner office.
I’ve been in business for a year this month and only on Sunday did I tell my parents about my business…because I wanted to be successful first. I'm almost 54 years old and I still wanted my parent's approval. I was defining what success was by their standards. When I told them and showed them my websites, they said they were proud of me!
If you’re always chasing someone else’s definition of success, you’re likely to end up burned out and frustrated, even if you do manage to succeed.
It’s far better to take a step back and ask yourself, “What does success look like to me?” Keep in mind when asking this question that there’s no right or wrong definition here. You might define success as being able to live in an RV nine months out of the year while homeschooling your three kids. You might define success as the ability to write books and self-publish them. Define success on your terms!
YOU GAIN NEW CONFIDENCE
Perhaps the biggest benefit of walking away from the opinion of others is that you gain new confidence in your abilities. You finally realize that you have the power to make smart decisions that honor who you are.
The result is a boost of confidence. The more you become confident in yourself, the easier it becomes to embrace your own voice and discover what you truly want out of your life.
IT'S TIME TO TRY SOMETHING NEW
If you’ve spent years worrying about what others think and fretting over the opinions of those around you, the idea of letting go may seem radical to you. In fact, it can be downright scary. But think of it like a journey and make baby steps toward letting go.
Just like you have to practice riding a bike, you have to practice making decisions by yourself. The more you do, the more you’ll realize just how awesome you are!
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