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When I turned 30, something happened to me.
I began trying to stop caring what other people thought of me. I let go of worrying whether people liked me or disliked me. And I stopped stressing about what other people thought of my decisions.
Throughout my teen years, and during my 20s, I was excruciatingly restricted by fear. I always worried about what other people thought of me.
I would make myself physically (and mentally) ill. I felt like I needed to control my weight, my image, and tried fitting into a mold of what I thought would make me more desirable to others.
I never felt good enough and was convinced that controlling external factors such as my clothes, weight, and hair would make me feel happier. Ironically, the extreme anxiety made me a pretty unpleasant person to be around. I struggled to relax, worried about every social event or meal, and was uber-sensitive about what other people thought or said about me.
If someone so much as swore at me in a bout of road-rage, it would leave me upset for the whole week. If someone insulted me, I would completely take it to heart.
My insecurities went further than skin deep. I completed university with a first-class honors degree, and I still didn’t feel competent enough for the job market. I didn’t feel good enough to apply for jobs that I now know I was more than qualified for.
This pattern repeated itself when I began my teacher training a few years later. I was terrified of feeling or looking stupid, incompetent, and making a mistake. I was sinking but couldn’t admit this to anybody or accept that I wouldn’t be a top-tier teacher from the beginning. I needed to be outstanding or not at all.
When I had children, it helped a lot in giving me a new outlook on what was important to me. However, the curse of anxiety and fear of what other people thought still crept in. I was desperate to be a fantastic mum and worried about what others thought about my decisions way too much.
I tried to keep up appearances in so many areas, but the reality was that it’s really bloody hard!
I remember a Community Midwife team member visiting and gently suggesting that I may be suffering from “perfectionism” and setting unattainably high standards for myself.
She told me that if I could learn to be kinder to myself and lower my expectations to meet the reality of being a new parent with a small baby, life would feel a lot more bearable.
Fear of failure and creating unachievable, high standards hold so many people back from achieving their potential and coping with life.
Brené Brown talks extensively about the power of vulnerability and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. She says we have to put ourselves in vulnerable situations and take risks if we want to grow. If you are terrified to branch outside of your “safe” zone, you will struggle to achieve your dreams; learning new things and change naturally comes with a feeling of discomfort in the beginning.
It is okay to do things wrong. This is how we get the opportunity to learn to do things right! It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing (especially if you haven’t done it before); just be open to learning.
So how can we stop caring so much?
How can we loosen our standards?
Here are the tips I wish I had learned much sooner in my life:
>> Feel the fear and do it anyway.
It’s okay to feel a bit anxious about change, doing new things, or meeting new people. Feel it, sit with it, take a deep breath, and go for it. Things are rarely as terrible as we worry they will be. Write an evidence log of all the things you were worried about in the past that turned out okay. This even works on a day-to-day basis. If you write a list of all the things that are worrying you in the morning, a huge percentage will have passed by the evening, and you’ll see that the worry wasn’t necessary.
>> Realize who actually matters and don’t worry about the rest.
This one is important. We are never going to be everybody’s cup of tea, and that is fine! It is better to be loved and appreciated for the person you truly are by a select few people than cherished by lots of people for being someone you are not. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that perhaps the people who would have judged me about the things I worried about (appearance and achievements) were not my kind of people anyway.
I would much rather surround myself with people who value others for what is on the inside.
Ask yourself, what do you value?
What is important to you?
I focus on the people who I truly care about, who are kind and caring and real. I honestly couldn’t care less what the others think anymore. If they don’t like me, that’s their problem. And it is so liberating!
>> What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail??
I have a magnet with this saying on it at home, and I love considering this question. So often, our most significant limit is ourselves. If we persevered and worked toward our dreams and goals without worrying, imagine how much more we would attempt in the first place.
Recently I have tried many things that are completely out of my comfort zone—being brave enough to begin a counseling business being one of them. I am trying to focus on the final goal rather than the hurdles and taking each thing one step at a time. It doesn’t mean I don’t have anxious thoughts or doubt myself at times, but I carry on even when I do. And I will continue to do that for as long as I want to achieve something.
Being flexible is also important. If something you started is not for you or is no longer making you happy, be brave enough to let it go and set new goals. I spent years beating myself up for “failing” at teaching. Why? I didn’t enjoy it. I should have been proud of myself for acknowledging this and moving forward.
>> Be brave enough to be you!
Keeping up appearances is exhausting! Have the courage to show your true self—the good and the bad. I guarantee you that the people you need in your life will still love you. And they will always be there. If you lose a few friends, maybe they weren’t for you anyway.
>> Don’t compare yourself to others.
It is so easy in this day and age to negatively compare ourselves to others. We try to size up where we are in life based on where other people are, or how we look based on how other people look. This is a fast route to unhappiness! Every one of us is on our own journey, with our own unique backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances. We are all beautiful in our own way, intelligent in our own way, and successful in our own way.
It is absolutely pointless to compare yourself to anyone other than the best version of yourself. Don’t do it, simple as that.
If you realize that you regularly feel deflated or miserable after scrolling through social media, consider taking a break. It makes a huge difference. By all means, admire or draw inspiration from others to drive yourself in the direction you want to go—but not at the expense of your self-worth.
Self-acceptance is a long-term job, and change won’t be immediate. I still care about how I look, but now the difference is that I am doing it for me—I don’t try to fit into an idea of what I think other people want me to be.
I do it because it makes me feel good. Not because I am trying to look like somebody else. I like to go by the motto of “Be the best version of yourself,” rather than “Be the best.”
As quoted in my favorite Baz Luhrman song, “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
I am who I am, and it’s not that bad.
If you like yourself, it matters much less whether other people do.