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How to Stop Fearing Other People’s Opinions

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With well-calibrated, internal compasses, great leaders are better able to tune out the noise and opinions of others to achieve their purpose and mission.

Are you feeling great when people are approving, inadequate when they’re not?

Are you running around trying to please everyone with every decision, never really tuning into your own needs?

Are you contorting and moulding yourself to fit the idea of what others think you should be? Squashing your desires and withholding your whole personality?

Are you not being yourself, not holding your boundaries, or not trusting your judgement, assuming others know better?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you’re suffering to some extent from FOPO – Fear Of People’s Opinions. Way less fun than YOLO – You Only Live Once.

Performing a part scripted by others

When other people’s opinions are more important than our own, we live life on their terms rather than ours. Performing a part that’s not what we wanted, needed, or truly desired. Inevitably, offering people a shell of what we think they’ll like – never giving our friends, romantic partners, and business colleagues an opportunity to truly know the real us. Cheating ourselves out of real intimacy, success, and happiness because of it. Perhaps regretting at the end of our lives that we didn’t show as authentic to who we are. 

It’s all too common to deprioritise, suppress or change who we are and what we want, in favour of other people’s projections of who we should be. How do I know? Because I’m just like you. We are made differently, unlike most of the people around us. We expect more, want more, and aren’t willing to settle for anything less. Our identity and self-worth, to a large extent, attached to achievement, recognition, and visible signs of success. I spent my whole life trained in a ‘do more, to be more’ operating philosophy. I went to the right schools, dated the right people, got the right jobs, made the right money and was still left feeling unfulfilled, disconnected, unsettled, frustrated, and unhappy. But there is a different way to have all of those things. I believe it so much that I’ve changed my whole life around it. Coaching the best and brightest leaders, what I’ve found is that the result is increased productivity, less stress and a big improvement in overall well-being for you, your organisation, and your family. 

What if, it’s not about what other people think, but rather, what you think about yourself? Perhaps projecting your own fears and internalised self-judgement onto other people. Instead, choosing to let go of people’s opinions, thus empowering yourself to be less harsh and judgemental with yourself too. 

What if, you feel like you’re running on a treadmill that won’t stop and let you catch your breath because you’re comparing yourself to what others are doing, thinking that unless you’re doing the same, you’ve failed? Instead, choosing to focus on your own unique path, hold yourself accountable, and meet the goals you set for yourself. Deciding to stop the self-imposed emotional suffering.

What if, you’re unconsciously over-valuing other people’s opinions because you’re looking for them to boost your self-esteem? Instead, choosing to identify ways to feel great about yourself, regardless of people’s approval or disapproval, whether with meditating, eating well, spending time in nature or whatever brings you joy. Showing yourself love and acceptance every day, so you’re no longer worrying about others or needing their approval.

What if, you didn’t see failure as something to be embarrassed about? Or an occasion to fear what other people may or may not be saying or thinking. Instead, using it as an opportunity for your own learning and growing. Drawing a line in the sand today, choosing to live your best life going forward.

Tuning in to your intuition

Tuning in to your intuition about who you are and what you really desire is essential to letting go of people’s opinions, or other’s validation that you’re doing it ‘right.’ What’s right for someone else may not be right for you. Your path is unique and special. Learn to focus on what makes you you – your talents, beliefs, and values – and stop conforming to what others may or may not think. If you’d like to achieve what you truly want in life and perform at your best, while being less fearful of people’s opinions, begin by cultivating your self-awareness and developing a stronger and deeper sense of who you are, what you care about, and why you do the things you do.

Start by asking yourself

What are my values? What do I believe to be true about the world? What kind of person am I? What kind of leader am I? What would I do on a Saturday morning if my schedule was clear? What kind of relationship do I want to have with my work?

The answers to these questions will serve as a compass, guiding your actions, thoughts, and decisions whether at the office or at home. Fast forward to years of self-discovery later, I’ve reoriented to a more mindful operating philosophy of ‘just be more present, aware, open, curious, with compassion and equanimity, and let the doing flow from there,’ which has me feeling more aligned, easeful, kind, and grateful. Rather than looking externally for answers or approval, I’m tuning in to my intuition and heart, which allows me to lead from a place of ease, rather than pressure. More importantly, I’m pursuing work that fulfils and sustains me, which has me feeling excited, motivated, and ready for action, where there is endless room for improvement, achievement, and results, both in my business and life.

What I’ve noticed coaching the best and brightest leaders is that beyond their relentless pursuit of getting to and staying at the top of their game, what makes high performers great is a clear sense of their operating philosophy and guiding principles. Because of their clarity, self-love, and self-acceptance, they’re more willing and able to push themselves, learn more, and embrace discomfort to achieve their purpose and mission. With a keen sense of who they are and who they’re working to become, they’re better able to tune out the noise and opinions of others and listen to their own well-calibrated, internal compass. 

So the next time you feel like you’re pursuing a career, relationship, or path not of your own choosing, or craving the validation of others, simply acknowledge it, take several deep, fortifying breaths in and long exhales out, and reconnect to your guiding principles and the larger objective at hand. Also, ask yourself, whose expectations are you trying to satisfy? What is this choice costing you? What do you genuinely want, in your heart of hearts? And, what would it be like to live from there? Dig into those places. It’s worth it. Promise.

Trishna Patnaik is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-to-one basis in Mumbai.

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