The phrase, “What people think of you is none of your business” was confusing when I first heard it as a kid. But I’ve since realized it means that people are going to have whatever opinions of you that they have, and you can’t stop them.
No matter what I do, I cannot control how people perceive me.
I spend a lot of energy making sure I don’t step on toes, upset people, or hurt people’s feelings. I want people to feel welcome and loved around me. In the past, this has been to my own detriment. I’d light myself on fire to keep someone else warm.
I make compassion a regular habit but I am also getting comfortable taking up some more space. My level of compassion has not changed, except that it now includes myself.
Perception is reality
Everything has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.
I had a boss who used to say, “Perception is reality.” I prefer to think that perception is a filter.
Everything that every person does or says is perceived uniquely by everyone around them. Because everything that every person does or says has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.
An example: Age gaps in relationships. They make me extremely uncomfortable. My abuser was 40 when he met and groomed me to be his victim at 23. Age gaps of ten or more years make me feel sick to my stomach, but it doesn’t mean I think every couple with an age gap is experiencing an abuse dynamic. That’s my experience, my discomfort, my issue. And it’s my boundary to enforce if I don’t want to be around couples with a big age gap because it’s a trauma trigger.
It doesn’t mean I hate you. It doesn’t mean I have to get over it any faster for your benefit, either.
Another example: Weight loss. I can’t deal with people’s before and after photos because they send me back to the mental place I was in when I was deep in my eating disorder. Do I think everyone who has lost weight has an eating disorder? No. Do I think they’re fatphobic? Yes, actually, but that’s a post for another time.
I have unfollowed social media accounts that focus on weight loss or diet culture. It doesn’t mean I hate you.
Fear of criticism
She draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.
It’s been almost two years since I left an abusive marriage, and I have met myself all over again. I’m discovering things I didn’t know I liked to do, because I never tried. I have a pretty active social life. I’m investing in professional services to make myself a better writer. I’m putting myself out there and promoting my work.
And it’s terrifying.
I have a professional coach whose favorite refrain is “What else?” I tell her how I’m feeling about something, she replies, “Okay, what else? What’s behind that? What’s the thought?”
Like the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams forces Ethan Hawke into reciting a sudden poem, she draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.
Last night I said to her, “I’m afraid if I get too big people will criticize me.”
So, it’s fear. I procrastinate, I hedge my bets, I don’t push far enough — because I am afraid to tip the scales in any one direction. I’m afraid to invite criticism.
In the same call, I laughed about a one star review someone left about my book. He hadn’t even read it and the review is nonsensical. I told her I wanted to frame it.
It’s so clear that the one star review is from someone who the book isn’t for. He’s not someone I am trying to reach.
A friend recently pointed out that there were some parts of my book where they thought I didn’t go far enough. I completely agree. I was over-concerned with being agreeable to every reader. A 2.0 version would have a lot of updates and would be bigger, longer, and a lot more divisive. It would invite criticism, but it would also invite more fervent support.
And that’s what I was missing.
I can’t stay quiet anymore
I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer.
I keep bumping into the fact that I try to smooth my edges to appeal to the masses. I censor myself because I’m too afraid of someone disagreeing with me. In conflict with a loved one, I soften my own pain so it doesn’t upset them.
I don’t have to be palatable. I don’t have to be perfectly portioned. I don’t have to be mass produceable.
I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer. And it’s going to suck, at first.
I’ve already lost friends for reasons I don’t understand. I regularly invite feedback and am willing to sit in the discomfort of talking through an issue, so the fact that people who were once close friends have simply written me off is hurtful, but it’s honestly none of my business. If they wanted me to make something right, they’d invite me to do so.
Just like I don’t hate the people I’ve had to take distance from, they probably don’t hate me either. Their perception of me is getting filtered through what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. And that’s okay, even though it stings.
Like my one-star reviewer, some people aren’t going to be the people I’m here to reach. But by turning myself up to 11 and not trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll attract the people I’m actually here to connect with.
I’m not for everyone, and not everyone is excited for me to change and grow into this new version of myself.
And it’s honestly none of my business.