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Caring Too Much About Other People’s Opinions Held Me Back—Here’s How I Started Doing What’s Best For Me

How these female leaders regained control and stepped into their full potential.

Opinions. Everyone has one.

Sometimes they are warranted, when coming from friends, partners, close colleagues, or advisors who truly have your best interest at heart. We may even consult these opinions when making decisions in our lives. 

But sometimes, those opinions become a roadblock. Suddenly, you aren’t thinking about what’s best for you, but rather what others will think — their potential scrutiny dictates how you live your life.

So what do you do when you realize the opinions of others are holding you back? How do you start doing what’s in your best interest?

To get a few tried and true methods, I tapped into the Dreamers & Doers network to learn how these 12 female leaders realized their potential was being constricted based on the opinions of others and how they’ve taken intentional steps to ensure they continue prioritizing themselves.

As you’ll learn from their reflections, your life is yours to live. You deserve to step into your full potential and live out your biggest dreams — free from the unwarranted opinions of others.

Consider Who Is Questioning Your Decisions

When I was deciding whether to leave a well-known company for an unknown company that offered me a bigger challenge, I fell into a deep crisis about my decision. Some of the opinions people had included whether I could handle more responsibility, what more responsibility would do to my personal life, and why I would leave a job at one of the world’s dream companies. I ultimately followed through with the decision and did what was right for me. The person who has questioned my ability to take on the role was a senior person who had recently joined my current organization who has interacted with me very briefly. I realized he knew almost nothing about me nor what I knew I was capable of so his opinion was based on less than one hour of any meaningful interaction with me. This helped restore my confidence that I could do this bigger role. I have continued to step back to try to see the lens others are looking through since that time and it has really helped to reduce my anxiety about other people questioning my decisions.

—Isis Nyong’o, Founder, MumsVillage

Prioritize Quiet Time

The turning point for me was when I was ready to quit my corporate career but there was no real path to doing so and I had no plan for what was next. Something inside of me said, “leap and figure it out,” but instead I simmered on the decision for a year, even opting to take a new role that came with a nice promotion in the process. At that point I wanted to please the people I worked with, my family, and even some part of myself that wanted to exhaust all the options before taking the leap. I don’t know that I’ll ever fully be able to drown out what people think because it’s so ingrained in the culture I come from. However, I think there comes a time in your life where you just get tired. Tired of complaining, tired of excuses, tired of all the noise in your head — I definitely hit a point where I was done complaining and that’s when I made the decision to quit. Thankfully, I ended up realizing that there was more support behind this decision than I thought — and that’s usually the case. Now, the way I keep this up is trying to make sure I have time to get quiet — to drown out the noise and to listen to what I want to do, and what feels right.

—Lori Abichandani, Founder, a big idea

Set Personal Boundaries

At some point in my twenties or thirties, I came to realize that I seriously needed to set and protect my personal limits so that I could let go of feelings of blame, shame, and guilt I was experiencing within certain relationships. The consequences of not establishing and maintaining emotional boundaries was increased stress and resentment within relationships that were important to me. Correcting my emotional boundaries began with paying attention to my feelings, especially in the moments when I was feeling particularly uncomfortable, stressed, or resentful. Tuning into my feelings and giving myself permission to speak clearly and directly to make my boundaries understood has greatly improved my professional and personal relationships. Today, whenever I detect resentments piling up, I remind myself, “we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are,” and this is my cue to do a check in on my boundaries.

—Sara Shala, CEO and designer, Sara Shala jewelry

Control Your Inputs

In my corporate life, I never really cared what people thought about me, mostly because I was confident in my education and career path. But when I was launching my own business, I was overcome with self-doubt and consumed by what others would think of me if I failed. When I realized that fear was holding me back from being myself and taking risks, the things I needed to be successful, I knew I had to stop worrying about what other people think. Now I focus all my energy and effort into doing everything I can to make whatever I’m working on a success. Some things will be winners and some won’t, and that’s OK. I can’t control the outcome, only my inputs.

—Jennifer Yousem, Founder, Supporting Strategies Queens

Focus on Your Confidence

I’m a serial entrepreneur and my first company went viral — not in a good way. I got death threats and rape threats from people I didn’t know. As a woman with PTSD it shook me to my core, but I realized if I let strangers determine my self worth, I’d never achieve my dreams. I focused on my confidence, loving me for me, and being honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I keep this up through journaling and telling myself I’m a badass. The narratives we tell ourselves determine our lives, and I’m dedicated to making my life an amazing one — I better believe I’m amazing to make that a reality.

—Allison Monaghan McGuire, Founder, The McGuire Method

Follow Your Gut

I used to be so self-conscious of voicing my opinions because I was afraid what other people would think and judge. Being self-conscious held me back from advancing my career — I seldomly expressed my views at meetings and tried to be agreeable with everyone. I was promoted and gained more respect from my colleagues once I let go of other people’s opinions, focused on my role, and spoke up more often. When I realized it’s exhausting and counterproductive to please everyone and seek approval from others, I started following my gut instincts and core values. This realization has led me to publish my first long-overdue blog on my website. It felt scary at first, but once it was published, it felt liberating to share my knowledge and thoughts with the world.

—Nina Kong-Surtees, Founder and Chief Art Advisor, smART Advisory

Step Into Vulnerability

Moving from my third to fouth year as a self-employed consultant, I was absolutely broke. I was taking work from stereotypical male startup founders, the kind I’ve seen since starting my career in Silicon Valley in 2005. While they were pontificating that they needed to be as innovative and remarkable as Steve Jobs, I was charging peanuts to work on startup ideas that I knew had no legs. In 2017, I rebranded under the Lady Engineer®, a brand that I crafted to truly represent me; I was thumbing my nose at the Silicon Valley establishment. After all, why is being me in this industry still an anomaly? With my fingertips on the keyboard about to send out my first e-book laying out how the whole industry was wrong, I was crying out of pure fear and absolute vulnerability to share my honest opinions.

—Lindsay Tabas, Startup Strategist, Lady Engineer®

Take the Leap

Finally taking the leap to work on Aila full time was a big turning point for me, and being able to walk away from a cushy career in media. I’d felt like in staying in that world, I was no longer challenged and had stopped learning. I realized I’d rather try to build this and fail than stay comfortable. I’m continuously trying to learn more about building a business and always connecting with other founders on their successes and struggles.

—Katie Webb, Founder and CEO, Aila

Pave Your Own Path

At my previous companies, it was apparent that even though they said they want to innovate, create change, and be bolder, it wasn’t coming through in their business models or what they chose. They seemed to be at the mercy of what a buyer wants, or a friend, or anyone besides the demographic they were looking to serve. Other people’s opinions and perspectives were pushing me into a design hole that I didn’t want to be in anymore. I didn’t want to create more products that would end up in landfills. I decided to start my own company, with two other like-minded women, called Canary + Co! It would be based around what women ACTUALLY want, keeping sustainable practices in mind, ditching the idea of fast fashion, and not allowing retailers to dictate a brand!

—Kate Abdelmalek, Founder, Canary + Co

Listen to the Daydream

Twenty-something, at a reputable company that I liked, and daydreaming all. the. time. I didn’t act on leaving because others would find me ungrateful, reckless, or throwing away a good thing. It finally dawned on me that these thoughts weren’t distractions but hints of my dream life, my happy place, my desires. If I didn’t go for it I’d spend my whole life just daydreaming, wishing, and unhappy. I started small and stepped out of my comfort zone little by little. Each little step grew my confidence in taking risks and grew trust in myself. The steps got bigger and bigger and before I knew it, I was leaping and constantly adjusting to feel aligned.

—Michelle Arrazcaeta, Senior Creative Strategist 

Nix the Fear of Judgement

When I launched my business, I started looking for influencers to help promote our brand. I reached out to a few friends I knew who were influencers themselves to see how to go about finding the right partners. One said to me, “Tana, you’re the founder. You’re already an influencer for your own company. Why don’t you start there?” Self-promotion — and the risk of judgment — has always made me uncomfortable. But I realized that by trying to separate my business image from my personal image, I wasn’t able to tell the whole story about why I started Mountainist in the first place. I made a point to start sharing my highs and lows as both Tana the adventure-junky and Tana the founder. When I was having a tough time personally, I shared it with the Mountainist community. When Mountainist experienced success, I shared it with friends and family. I stopped worrying about whether people would view me as pretentious or weak. These days, I’m working on being Tana the human, the one and only.

—Tana Hoffman, Founder and President, Mountainist

Seek Guidance Intentionally

Caring what my parents think has always impacted me and frankly still does. But, when I left New York to move to Los Angeles, I finally realized how caring what they thought of me had mentally held me back in my entrepreneurial endeavors. I got clear on what had been holding me back from reaching my potential and kept my burning desires closer to the vest as I made important decisions and pivots in my career. Does this mean I never sought guidance or shared my feelings? No. But, when I did, I was intentional about how and had conviction, standing in my power that only I know what is best for me.

—Joanna Steinberg, Real Estate Entrepreneur, PLG Estates

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