I grew up in town with less than 2,500 people and went to a at which my parents were teachers. When you did anything, especially the embarrassing stuff, it felt like the school – and town – knew about it. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, then you know the joke that you don’t need to use your blinker because everybody already knows where you’re going anyways. When I got the courage for a creative idea, it was easy to fall into the confidence-blasting habit of, “What will people think?”
Leaving the small town and into corporate America, I talk with people who still worry to the tune of “What will everyone think?” It halts us from achieving what we desire. Some people desire to take a career step back to enjoy more work-life balance, but end up tolerating the frantic pace because, “What would people think?” Some people dream of promoting their hobby on social media but play small because, “People might think this is silly.”
Do you share in this “everybody” fear – a big, ominous group of people who are thinking about your shortcomings constantly and waiting to criticize you for them? Many of us can fill in the blank here, “If I didn’t care what other people thought I would……..”
Here are two tools to help you find freedom from your everybody.
Check Your Thinking
If you’re like me, your biggest everybody story might be, “People will think this is stupid.” That thought leads to my feelings of anxiety, fear and hesitation (among others). How I feel determines what actions I take. When I’m feeling fearful and hesitant, I tend not to do anything. I stall and wait and make excuses. These actions lead to my results, which in this case, are zero. This belief system crushes my confidence and becomes a recurring trap every time I desire to stretch my comfort zone.
One of my clients was new to an organization. She was a go-getter, but she kept hitting a wall of self-doubt when it came time to volunteering for projects. She replayed a story in her head that every time she’d raise her hand to ask a question in this project group, her inexperience would lead her to say something people thought was dumb. Her fear of “Everybody will think I’m dumb” turned into a limiting belief that was holding her back.
Overcoming a limiting belief begins by questioning it as truth. “Is it true that people think you’re stupid?” She said of course that was not true, and if she acted like it wasn’t true, she would sign up for the next available committee spot.
We considered if the opposite could also true – that people will think she’s smart? She laughed immediately. She told me she actually admired people in meetings who asked what seemed like obvious questions. She thought they were helpful and brave – not dumb at all. And she could be that person – the one who asks helpful questions in meetings. The a-ha moment, that she was being so self-critical of the qualities she admired in others, was so freeing for her that she could immediately think of something that she wanted to sign up for that week.
List Your People
When I struggle with finding the truth in my stressful thoughts, my second tactic is to list who my “everybodys” are. When I’m stalling on a creative idea because I am worried “People will think this is stupid,” I list all these imagined people. While my ego wants me to believe that this opposing force is thousands of people, in reality, I can often only list one or two people. What’s even more striking is the two people on this list are people whose opinions don’t carry any weight. It’s often people who are not willing to take risk or jump in the arena with me. Many times, it’s the voice of an old bully or someone in my life who was good at providing shame and criticism, but not much healthy support.
Then, I make another list of the people who love, believe and support me. I write down my big, creative goal and ask, “Who would be cheering me on for this?” I can often think of many people – at least 6-10.
And, that’s exactly where I need to spend my energy. Instead of focusing on my two nobodys, default to positive, uplifting people as my “everybodys.” Spend time with your cheerleaders. If you have somebody close in your life who is negative, eliminate their voice as much as possible and turn up the volume on those who are inspiring you.
If you need a little extra help silencing your “everybody,” here’s an excerpt from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. A wise old woman once told her,
“We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”
You get to choose whose voices you listen to. Amplify the voices of those who love and cheer for you.Kelli Thompson
As you rise confidently to your challenges this week, how could holding on to the liberating truth that “nobody’s thinking of you anyhow” free you up to achieve to stretch your comfort zone?