by Jennifer O’Callaghan
When I was in elementary school, my mom had the habit of replacing the teen soap opera novels on my nightstand with more wholesome reading. They were lighthearted books with an under current of the importance of not worrying how others perceived you, or your unique brand. They usually involved a child protagonist, boldly standing up to school bullies. These stories made independence of others’ opinions seem quite effortless. Relieved, I continued to be my neon pant wearing, loud mouth self. That is, until high school arrived, and, my hormones raged to an alarming height. Suddenly, I couldn’t think of much else besides the way jocks looked at me in the hallway, or why I wasn’t invited to my arch frenemy’s party on Saturday night. What did they think of me? I just wanted to fit in. The books I’d believed in those years ago suddenly appeared to be exactly what they were. Fiction.
As humans, especially when entering the adult world, it’s hard to let go of our primal roots. In ancestral times, group inclusion was necessary for basic survival. You needed to be part of the tribe so you had shelter or weren’t taken out by a woolly mammoth. But in current days, we don’t have the same threats of immediate danger. Modern times have seen the birth of the car, the internet, and the Kardashians. We’re a world away from prehistoric times, yet the struggle over others’ judgement is real as ever.
When we begin to discover the things we care about and want to pursue, those dreams might not align with everyone’s idea of success or safety. It can be good to ask for advice sometimes, but, externally seeking validation can be a death sentence to dreams. In order to know what’s worthwhile to us, we have to detach from the static noise of the world. That can be easier said than done, but if you feel like you’ve been programmed to pursue what looks good on paper, it may be time to get re-aligned with what holds true meaning for you.
Remember, your anxious emotions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. At times, they can be helpful, and indicate useful information. The key is not allowing them to knock you off track or let fear of others’ opinions stop you from making your unique mark on the world.
What You Love Should Matter The Most
Look at what motivates you. Start questioning what’s behind your goals. Once you’re clear about that, don’t let others decide what you’re capable of. Only you can clearly see your vision. When you put passion into what you do, your critics tend to fall to the wayside. It’s hard for other people to judge you if you’re happy, and earning a living at what you love. When you put yourself out there and pursue your dream, it’s good to be somewhat skeptical of what’s said about you. You can’t read too much into the positive or negative feedback. Learn the difference between constructive advice and nonsensical comments that hold no value.
Bold Choices Create A Divided Response
Boldness is polarizing. You’re going to cause a positive response in some and a negative one in others. There will always be haters, no matter what you do. A controversial icon like Madonna has clearly been aware of this since day one, and that’s what’s helped her succeed and navigate her way through the extreme reactions to her work, whether venomous detractors or devoted fans. You can’t do anything great and not be criticized by someone, somewhere. Acceptance of that will liberate you.
Align With Like-Minded Professionals
Be conscious of who you surround yourself with. Create a crew of people who get your goals. Find creative or entrepreneur groups online, or in your area. It’s also helpful to have at least one ally you can talk shop with, where you mutually support one another’s projects. Even if it’s just a weekly coffee chat, prioritizing those conversations will help you feel secure in your journey and less inclined to search for support from those who might not get your objective. I have a standing Zoom call booked with an artist friend every Saturday. We discuss our ideas and try to offer one another troubleshooting advice on problem areas. I truly value this time, and it gives me a boost to feel aligned with someone who’s facing similar challenges.
Don’t Expect The Worst
If someone asks you to explain what you do, don’t automatically assume they’re being judgemental. Perhaps they’re just asking you to elaborate on what you do. If they still don’t seem to understand after you’ve explained, don’t chase their approval. Trying to change how others feel about you is a waste of time and energy that you can’t afford to burn when you’re chasing an ambitious end goal.
If I could sit down with my high school self, I’d urge her not to let go of those stories where following your heart wins out, no matter what others say. It’s human nature to ponder how others perceive you. The trick is to not let it paralyze you. Let go of what sounds good, and allow only the things with true meaning to be your guide.
Jenn is a Toronto-based journalist and entrepreneur. She loves to write about creativity and help others with their personal goals. She can be found working up a sweat in dancehall and hip hop cardio classes.