In my former incarnation as a codependent, overly-anxious, living, breathing human being, I often used to worry about what everyone thought of me.
It didn’t matter whether it was a person from my past, or a friend in my present—my first thought was, “What would they think of me?” And it didn’t have to be regarding an event of immense importance; I was quite capable of ruminating endlessly about something as trivial as a throwaway comment about my choice of footwear.
Such thoughts used to cripple me.
And, up until a very short time ago, it still did.
Then I came across a quote from a literary hero of mine, David Wallace Foster. To be honest, it was a bit of a game-changer.
And it is:
“You will stop worrying so much of what other people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.”
At first, Wallace’s words jab at your latent codependent insecurities: I’m important, you plead. Of course they’re thinking about me! Who? Everyone! I matter! All of the time!
But, your codependency (along with its cousins, low self-esteem and anxiety), is lying to you. You might be ruminating, replaying events from your past—and historic poor choices of footwear—over and over.
However, others probably aren’t.
To be honest, most people have probably forgotten all about you. And your shoes.
That’s not because you don’t matter, or never did. You do matter. And you are important. But people still probably aren’t thinking about you as much as you think they are.
Why? For starters, we’re in the climax of a global pandemic; I’m not being mean, but everyone’s got more important things to juggle.
But, even if COVID-19 had never raised its misshapen head, those same people still wouldn’t be preoccupied with you. They’ve got jobs, families, and all kinds of other assorted shenanigans you know nothing about.
If they care about you, then they’ll be concerned if you’re struggling. If they love you, then they’ll worry about you when you seem preoccupied. But, at other times? Nope; it’s not happening.
We’ve only got so much mental capacity to spare—you might be still be worrying about that night five years ago when you made an utter drunken ass of yourself, but I doubt if they can even recall it. They’ve got a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed—you might be a part of their internal landscape, but you’re not dominating it.
They will think of you. Not as much as your ego would like, but I’m certain that they still think of you to some perfectly adequate level.
As for everyone else?
This might be a big blow to your pride, but estranged family members, ex-partners, someone you worked with at McDonald’s 30 years ago, that kindergarten teacher the five-year-old you was once cheeky to…yep, they’re definitely not thinking about you.
Why would they? Time has moved on, and so have they. That’s not to say you didn’t once matter; you did, and maybe you did to a profound degree. But that’s the past: if they’re not in communication with you today, then you’re probably not in their thoughts.
And, honestly, they shouldn’t be in yours either.
Your codependency is a big fat liar. It’s given you an inflated sense of importance in the lives of others. One that’s simply not accurate. And, worse than that, one that has meant you’ve wasted a huge amount of time. You know all those hours you spent worrying about what others thought of you, or ruminating over past mistakes, or failed loves, or what they said about your silly shoes?
You should have been spending that time on worrying about you.
Not about what everyone will say when you finally pick up the courage to wear those Star Wars Vans you’ve had in a box for years—no one really cares about them. And certainly not on mistakes from a decade ago that you’ve repeatedly apologized for—everyone else moved on from that years ago. But on what makes you happy.
In the same way they’re all thinking about themselves, you need to do the same, and move the focus onto yourself.
So, get that outrageous haircut, buy those ridiculous shoes, and take up that career as a writer of inspirational poetry. No one is really going to kick up a fuss. And leave the past where it is; everyone else already has.
Don’t worry about what people think of you—because they seldom are thinking of you.
Live for you, live a life that’s in line with your moral code. And wear what you like, eat what you like, and listen to whatever daft music you want. Most of all, let the past go. Apologize if you have to, but—for the first time—think about you.
Don’t be an ass; be kind. That way, when everyone does think of you, they’ll do so fondly. But otherwise don’t worry about what everyone thinks about the wonder that is you.
And realizing that is pretty liberating.
It also opens up so many possibilities with regard to shoes.