Living By The Opinions of Others

DSC_0397“Conformity is a copout. It threatens self-awareness.” –Alexandra Robbins

Hello friend,

Most weeks after I write my letter to you, I forget about it immediately and move on. After a few days of allowing my mind to be free and open, I start to wonder about what I will write to you next. This week, however, has been different. As I was closing last week’s post, “How to Change and Still Be Yourself,” one of the thoughts that sprung from my fingers to the screen regarding fear of being judged by others was, “Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it?” It was one of those moments of writing when I said to myself, “Where did that sentence come from?” I didn’t think of it; it just came out. But when it hit me, it stuck. Really stuck. It resonated way down deep in me, touching a nerve that, apparently, needed some care and attention. All week long, I have returned to to this question.

I have questioned myself more than once as to whether I really got to the heart of the matter in last week’s post. It was about daring to break out of your comfort zone, and I talked about how I was trying to balance my desire to share my new business, which I really believe can help people, with my innate discomfort with selling anything. In the process of writing the letter, I became more certain that it was worth it to get past my discomfort in selling things because that is outweighed by the potential good I can share with others. The issue was supposed to be resolved with that realization.

So why has the topic lingered so much? It was that question about granting other people enormous power over my choices and actions without doing anything to earn that power. I have been thinking that maybe the crux of the issue is not that I am not a salesman; maybe my real comfort zone is when I don’t do anything that could draw criticism or rejection from my peers. This includes sales. I am thinking that the essence of why I don’t want to share a product and business that I believe in is that I am scared to be judged and rejected.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, we are all a little self-conscious and want our peers’ approval. It’s natural. Aren’t you used to that at your age?”   Well, yes and no. Of course, there has always been some desire for public approval (I was an actor, after all, and now I am a writer). But I have actually passed through periods where I believed I was somewhat free of my ego’s need for acceptance. When I was in my early twenties, I lived for a short time in New York City. The city was an animal like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everything—everything—was so big, so loud, so busy. And I didn’t know anybody. I was completely anonymous. I loved it! I have vivid memories of walking down the streets of Greenwich Village in the evening, singing out loud. Not to get anyone’s attention, but just because I felt like it. I felt so free to follow my whims because I was totally anonymous. No matter who I passed, I was quite sure I would never see them again. If they thought I was a lunatic for singing out loud as I walked, that didn’t bother me at all. Their opinions meant nothing to me. I could just as well have been walking alone in the desert. It was me and only me who I had to answer to. That freedom from caring about judgment gave me a free pass to be myself. It was a new Myself, though, one that I hadn’t known before, because I had always been around people that I knew and whom I had given permission to make me feel right or wrong, good or bad. But it was definitely me singing down that city street. The song in my heart was expressed. I was liberated.

Until I wasn’t. Gradually I slipped back into being too sensitive, too aware of what others might think of me. Maybe it was living in Hollywood, where everything is about the look, the image that people have of you. I suppose I succumbed to trying to be what I thought was the right way to look and act for the people in those circles. Eventually, though, I tired of that mindset. In my last several months in California, I took a deep dive into my spirituality and was heavily focused on its development. I was reading lots of books, and a genuine internal revolution was beginning that would come to shape my outlook on life for all of the years that have followed. I found myself achieving moments when I seemed to transcend this world, causing me to believe that I was becoming immune to the opinions of others. This week, as I was working on my late-night hobby, The Journal Project, I happened to arrive at an entry I made on September 1, 1997, about a month after I had left California. I was assessing the period of deep personal growth that I was in the midst of, and these were the phrases I used to describe my progress and position:

“It is a feeling of total peace within myself, as though there is no place I would rather be than my own skin. I have completely accepted who I am, and I am so very happy about the person who it is that I have accepted….I feel as though I have gradually but certainly taken a good look in the mirror and owned all of my attributes, some of which I am happy with and some of which need some work. But I have embraced them all and committed myself to become a positive force in this universe by trying to improve each attribute and use them to the best advantage of that universe. It is in embracing my total self that I am freed from self-doubt and freed from the opinions of others. In becoming free from the opinions of others, or perhaps because of it, I have allowed God to more fully become the true force guiding my life. I surrender myself to His will, and thereby make my life an extension of His hand. With this comes my release from the bondage of opinions. And with this release come a freedom that is so far beyond that which we speak of in our daily conversations. And it is as though I had no idea I wasn’t free until I was actually free.” 

Wow! Who was that guy? I envy him! How did he disappear? He definitely slipped back into being too concerned about what his family, coworkers, and Facebook friends think. And even though I try every day to be authentic and share myself honestly with the world around me, I know I fail at it. Every day. I don’t walk my neighborhood streets singing. I catch myself wondering what people will think of my wardrobe as I set my clothes out for the next day. I want a positive reputation. And clearly, as last week’s post reveals, I am worried about how people will think of me when I talk about my new business on Facebook. I am guilty!

And yet, I have my moments. I overcome it sometimes. I think I do it best for these Journal of You letters that I write to you. I made a little deal with myself during the first few posts I wrote that I would “follow the fear.” If a topic seemed uncomfortable to reveal my opinion about, I made myself address it. I made myself write about my weaknesses and insecurities. I made myself take on religion and politics. I shared about my family. I did this because I wanted Journal of You to be authentic, and I believed in its/my purpose. If the examples from my life and my opinions can get someone to start a journal and get to know themselves better, then exposing myself was well worth it. Maybe writing my Truth here will make me feel confident and more willing to share my opinions elsewhere and not be so sensitive to the opinions of others. The “real me” has appeared and disappeared too many times through the years. It is time to claim Myself again!

How about you? Whose opinions most dictate what you do and how you do it? Open your journal and expose yourself. Are you marching to the beat of your own drummer, or are you following someone else’s lead? In what areas of your life do you feel you are being most authentic, living your Truth? When you are in that mode, do you feel more or less sensitive to the opinions of others? What is it that allows you to be authentic despite your insecurities? Do you think you can carry that courage with you to other areas of your life? Has your sensitivity to the opinions of others remained pretty consistent throughout your life, or are you like me, having passed through periods of greater freedom and authenticity? When were you at your most free? How did you get there? Do you ever think you will get to the point where you literally do not care what anyone else thinks of you? How far down the road might that point be? Exactly which people are the ones you are allowing to oppress you (whether or not they know it or are intentionally doing so)? Is it your parents, family, friends, coworkers, Facebook friends, or society in general? I go back to my lingering questions from last week: Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? I know that in my life, I have given my power away too easily. The people I have given it to did not earn it at all. That realization is what eats at me. That is why those questions have lingered all week and will probably linger forever. How about you? Have you given your power away too easily? Has anyone earned it? What could someone do to truly earn your power? Leave me a reply and let me know: “Whose approval are you living for?” 

Life is short,

William

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.