Since Thanksgiving is only a few days away and we often get together with more people than usual for the holidays, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss the topic of letting people be wrong about you.  I think the holidays can often be more stressful because, without even realizing it, we worry about what other people think of us.

If we’re completely honest, for so many of us, especially women, we tend to care an awful lot about what other people think of us, especially when it comes to being a woman and a mother.  Unfortunately we can be drawn to knowing what other people are thinking, or we obsess about what we believe they might be thinking, wanting to understand and then possibly change other people’s opinions of us.  Can you relate?

Whether it’s just an acquaintance, or it’s a long-time friend or co-worker, it might be hard to admit, but we tend to spend a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what someone else is thinking when it comes to us.  Not only that, but then we spend time and energy trying to figure out how to defend ourselves if we believe another person’s thoughts aren’t favorable towards us.  

Of course it’s natural to like it when people respect, admire, or like us, but have you ever considered the cost?  Think about it for a minute – how much time have you spent or effort have you put into managing how other people think about you, whether it’s socially, personally, or professionally?

Consider the last time you were in a situation where you weren’t quite sure whether someone liked you or not.  For most of us, me included, we typically have some version of the following thoughts swirling in our minds like, “I get the feeling that they don’t really like me.  I wonder why?  Did I say something wrong?  I need to figure out what I did so I can correct it.  I have to figure out what will make them change their mind about me.”

If you’ve ever had this happen, you probably spent a lot of mental energy trying to not only figure out whether someone liked you or not, but then trying to figure out how to change any negative perception they might have about you.  While no one likes to be judged, once someone’s judgement is on our mental radar, it can seem like we just become a heat seeking missile, trying to disarm others' negative perceptions and opinions of us.

Even if you have many people in your life that love you and think you’re amazing, it can be incredibly distracting when you discover a naysayer in your world.   For some of us, we might even deal with this by becoming self-deprecating and sarcastic, trying to let others know that we already know all the negative things about ourselves so they don’t have to worry about thinking about them, because we already do.  

For the most part, as humans we tend to want one of three things from other people that may or may not matter to us:

  1. We want people to like us
  2. If they don’t, we want them to understand us
  3. If they don’t, we want them to know that we already know our own faults

The interesting thing is that we can weave in and out of these three things depending on a lot of factors.  It doesn’t necessarily happen all the time, but most of us, at various times in our lives, are wanting at least one of these three things.

As you can see, this back and forth of the fear of being judged, wanting to change people’s judgements, and judging ourselves in order to protect ourselves from the sting of someone else’s judgment, can be exhausting.  It can have us switching between wearing our people-pleaser hat, our defense attorney hat, and our self-judgment hat, often all at the same time.

So what can you do instead of needing to clean up people’s perceptions of you?  You can just let people think what they’re going to think, you can let them be wrong about you, and you can take all your energy back that you wasted trying to get them to know you, like you, or understand you.  I know what you’re thinking – easier said than done – but stick around because I’m going to help you see it’s not as hard as you might think.

This week I’m going to discuss the reason why we worry about what other people think about us and how to let people be wrong about you.  

 

The reason why we worry about what other people think of us

If you struggle with the issue of worrying, or even obsessing, about what other people think of you, you’re definitely not alone.  Whether it’s when you were a child, an adolescent, or now as an adult, most of us do it at various times and in various situations, but sometimes it can become all consuming, where we wind up trying to figure out and manage many people’s opinions.

Even if it doesn’t happen that often, I’ve yet to meet a person that has never worried what other people think about them at some point in their lives.  You might believe you’re immune to caring what other people think, but you might be surprised at how much you actually do and may not realize it.

The reason this is quite common is because as humans, we have evolved as tribal creatures, therefore, we are programmed to seek approval from others.  It’s how we have survived for thousands of years – by making sure we are accepted by the tribe.

This is also why we can easily become people-pleasers and why we often seek validation from others, especially as women.  We are hardwired to be concerned about the acceptance of others for our survival, and when there’s a chance that people think something about us that we don’t believe to be true, our brain’s default is going to want to change their opinion.  It’s totally natural.

As I’ve shared on previous podcasts, our primitive brain is motivated by 3 things – to seek pleasure, to avoid pain, and for things to be easy, with as little effort as possible.  Because of this fact, it makes sense that people judging you or talking negatively about you would be an issue because it’s not pleasurable, can be quite painful, and it’s not easy.

For accountants though, we especially need to be extra vigilant when we’re worrying what other people think of us, for one very important reason – productivity.  The truth is that you expend a lot more energy than you realize when you’re worried about anything, but especially when you’re worried about what other people think of you. 

Just think about the last time you were worried about something – it was probably pretty challenging to stay focused, productive, and efficient at work.  The problem is that worry is one of the most distracting, non-productive emotions accountants can have, and when the reason you’re feeling worried has to do with what someone thinks about you, it’s even more draining and inefficient.

The other issue is that caring about what other people think keeps you from accepting yourself for who you are.  When this happens, you either become a chameleon or you make yourself wrong for being the way you are.

I can tell you from experience, that THAT is truly exhausting.  I did it for most of my life, and honestly still do it sometimes – taking the temperature of the room, trying to figure out which version of me I should show up as, scanning each person to see if there’s any hint of disapproval, and then either beating myself up afterwards, or being completely exhausted from all the mental work I did caring what other people think of me.    

This is especially common for women because from the time we were young girls, we were socialized to make others happy, so when they seem to not be happy with us, it can naturally make us feel defensive or concerned.  Again, our primitive brain dramatically sees it as a threat to our survival, but thankfully there is a better way to handle situations when someone thinks something about you that you don’t want them to think – you need to let people be wrong about you.  But how?

 

How to let people be wrong about you

One of the most common issues that the women I coach deal with, is caring so much about what other people think that it keeps them stuck.  Unfortunately, this keeps them from doing what they truly want to do – to go after a dream, make a change, or just show up in a way that is who they truly are.

For example, so many of the women I speak to are reluctant to leave a secure job because people tell them how lucky they are to have their job, so they don’t want to start their own practice because they’re afraid of what people will think.  They’re afraid of what people will think if they fail, but interestingly, they’re also afraid of what people will think if they succeed.

The problem is that when you care too much about what others think about you, it’s really a no win situation because you wind up failing ahead of time.  Think about it – because of your worry about what others will think, you don’t take action on small or big things, decreasing the chances of having what you really want in your life.

I’ve spoken about failing ahead of time in a previous podcast episode, but basically it’s when you psych yourself out before you even get started doing something, making success an impossibility.  You’re so worried about failing and what other people will think, that you fail ahead of time by not taking any action.    

Some of us are even concerned about what people will think even if they’re no longer in our life, like an ex-spouse, a former employer, or a deceased family member.  In addition, some of us are concerned about being disloyal to the beliefs we grew up with or going against our community, culture, or religion.

I’ve spoken to women who won’t wear a bright colored top because they’re worried what their family will say, and I’ve coached women who don’t want to speak up about workplace discrimination because they don’t want to seem like troublemakers.  I’ve personally had people judge me for things like taking my own car to social functions because I’m an introvert and I like leaving when I want to leave, for leaving the Big 4 firms, and I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t divorce my first husband because he was such a nice guy.

As I shared before, we’ve all had various times, various people, and various situations where we worried what other people think.  While it’s perfectly normal, again we really have to take a look at what that worry is costing us.

Here’s what I’ve learned that has helped me tremendously with this – the point of your life isn’t to make other people happy for you, agree with you, or be proud of you.  The truth is that you cannot control what other people think about you, even if you did everything “right”, because there is no such unequivocal “right” thing.

Since everyone’s idea about what is “right” can be radically different, first you need to get in touch with, and be clear about, what’s important to you.  What are your likes and dislikes, your preferences, and your dreams and goals?  Once you’re clear about that, then you have to let other people have their thoughts about those things and let them be wrong about you.

To do this, you may need to rebel against what other people think is right for you.  You’re going to need to be okay with people thinking you’re crazy, selfish, too bold, too independent, or just not being or behaving in a way that they agree with.  It’s completely natural to have opinions, so let others have them. 

You’re going to need to be okay with them feeling threatened, embarrassed, jealous, or judgemental.  You’re going to need to be okay with the discomfort of going against that primal desire to be accepted into the tribe by letting people be wrong about you.

Again, the point of your life isn’t to make other people happy or to always be agreeable with their beliefs, wants, and needs.  The point of your life is to live it fully and to not expend so much mental energy trying to figure out what others want you to do or say.

Here’s another thing that has also helped me – the truth is that if someone believes something different from you in their mind, then that’s what’s true for them.  For example, if you tell your spouse about a party invitation, and they say you never told them, that’s what’s true for them.

You might want to argue and prove to them that they’re wrong, but think about the cost to you, to them, and to your relationship if you don’t just let them believe what they believe.  If you think about it, they feel good about being right in their mind, so why would they want to feel bad about being wrong?

The same thing goes for when you let people be wrong about you, or about anything else for that matter – you let them feel however they feel based on their thoughts and beliefs.  Here’s something you should also consider  – maybe thinking a certain way about you makes them feel better about themselves, or is less threatening to them in some way.

For example, this just happened to me recently where a very good friend I had for 17 years said she didn’t want to be friends with me anymore but wouldn’t give me her reasons.  As my brain swirled with confusion and scanned the past looking for answers about what I could have done to have her act this way towards me, I realized she has her reasons, she’s thinking about me in a way that makes her feel better about herself, and I can just let her be wrong about me.

There’s no need for me to defend myself, because the truth is that she’s chosen to think of me in a way that would cause her to end the friendship.  In her mind she’s right in whatever she’s thinking about me, and even though I don’t know what that is, letting her be wrong about me frees me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Let’s face it, we all want to be right because it will make us feel better, but we also think that correcting someone’s thoughts about us will also make us feel better in some way.  The irony is that by focusing on what other people think, we’re actually creating more angst for ourselves, which I can tell you from experience is completely exhausting and distracting.

So next time you’re worried about what people think about you, focus on letting go, even when it’s something “wrong” or “bad” and remind yourself that it’s really not about you, it’s actually about them.  They want to feel better in some way at that moment and they believe that they need to think whatever they think about you.

The only thing that matters is that you know the truth about you – that you like you, that you agree with you, and that you respect you.  Just let people be wrong about you so you can get on with being more productive, more energetic, more alive, and more you.

 

Summary  

  • If we’re completely honest, for so many of us, especially women, we tend to care an awful lot about what other people think of us, especially when it comes to being a woman and a mother.
  • While no one likes to be judged, once someone’s judgement is on our mental radar, it can seem like we just become a heat seeking missile, trying to disarm others' negative perceptions and opinions of us.
  • For accountants though, we especially need to be extra vigilant when we’re worrying what other people think of us, for one very important reason – productivity.