Growing up, a popular piece of advice I was given was “don’t care what other people think of you” and “be yourself.”
This is the most useless, senseless, confusing advice ever. Especially to a kid.
It’s impossible not to care what people think of you. In fact, being aware of what people think of you is the root of human nature. We all ache to belong. We want to be wanted. We like to be liked. Each day, we act and react to thousands of visual, verbal, audio, and physical cues from other humans subconsciously telling us what they think of us. And we perceive, receive, internalize, and over-analyze these cues.
Everyone does it. Even That Cool Alt-Chick In High School You Wanted So Badly To Be Best Friends With does it.
And “Be yourself.” What the flying squirrel-hell does that mean?! How can I “be myself” when I barely even know who I am?
A conversation between Adult Life Coach and Eleven Year-old Me:
ALC: Be yourself!
EYM: Um, okay. I’ll be myself.
EYM: So, um…who am I?
ALC: Yourself. No one else but yourself.
ALC: For example: music. Like whatever music you like, not what the other kids deem cool.
ALC: What music do you like?
EYM: Hm, rock. I like rock. Wait – no, I only like rock because Clara likes rock and I want to be best friends with Clara. Because Clara is cool.
ALC: Then listen to something else.
EYM: Er, okay. What, though…? I mean, there’s the radio…but that’s all “unoriginal” stuff, right? And then there’s classical music, because my parents listen to it all the time. But you said don’t listen to stuff other people place on you. Well then, what am I supposed to listen to…?
So I’m going to say it once:
1. It’s okay to care what other people think of you; and
2. It’s okay not knowing what “be yourself” means if you don’t know who you are.
We’re a mosaic of a civilization, a patchwork of individuals in a species. But we’re also mosaics within ourselves, bits and pieces copied and pasted from people we meet: people we hate, people we admire.
So if we’re just re-arranged versions of everyone else…that’s even less reason to care too much what other people think of us, right?
Confession: I care a lot about what other people think of me. Hey, I like being liked. Who doesn’t? But sometimes it gets to my head, to the point where looking out for my reputation is damaging my reputation, ironically.
So I’ll say once more, with feeling:
1. It’s okay to care what other people think of you because we all care. Everyone’s self-conscious (even if they don’t show it), so there’s no point in being self-conscious yourself; and
2. It’s okay not knowing what “be yourself” means because you’re a complicated mush of nature and nurture. To really “find yourself” you’d have to hire existentialist Harvard philosophy professors. And even they would scratch their heads.Be creative, relax, and above all, remember that it’s OK to feel insecure sometimes :]