I am much better employed from every point of view, when I live solely for my own satisfaction, than when I begin to worry about the world. The world frightens me, and a frightened man is no good for anything.
– George Gissing
Wow. That girl who just walked over to the frozen food section is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen: tall, slim, beautiful long, dark, silky hair, and a skimpy summer outfit that is almost frustratingly revealing of her perfect figure. That, you tell yourself, is exactly the kind of girl you want. Of course, you never actually say anything to her, because she’d probably think you’re weird to just go up and talk to her like that…right?
The biggest roadblock that is holding most of us back from living exactly the life we want is entirely self-created: It’s that we actually care what other people think.
Imagine what your life would be like if you just did what you wanted to do, instead of being imprisoned by social conditioning. Imagine if every time you saw that beautiful girl in the supermarket, you said hi to her. Imagine how much happier you’d be if you stopped doing things that other people thought were cool, and started living every moment as the full expression of who you are.
The most adrenaline-pumping risk you can take in life is to be yourself. Authenticity is a learnable skill and developing that skill requires taking action. As Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.”
Acknowledge the Problem
If you feel that your actions (or lack thereof) are governed in large part by social conditioning, the first step to not caring what other people think is to not only accept that this is a problem in your life, but that it is the most serious problem of all. It’s holding you back from meeting the girl of your dreams. It’s tearing you apart when you choose to define yourself by what other people think of you. It’s preventing you from doing things you really want to do, because you’re worried that other people may look down upon you or criticize your efforts.
By making authenticity your top priority, you’ll grant yourself the time and energy required to learn how to stand up for your own truth.
Give Yourself Permission to Be You
Friends aren’t forever, lovers often go their separate ways, and even families sometimes fall apart. The only person who is guaranteed to be by your side through thick and thin from your first breath to your last sputter is you.
Be your own role model. The only person you need validation from is yourself. You’re here for a reason because you choose to have a reason to be here. If you see life as something to endure rather than to enjoy, it’s because you’re letting yourself be controlled by the world, rather than being your own force of nature.
Would you date yourself? Would you hire yourself? Would you invite yourself to your own party? If not, consider the reasons why and do something about it. Be more of what you want to attract into your life. Hit the gym and burn the fat. Stop torturing yourself by choosing to drag yourself through the daily grind, and find something meaningful that you can really sink your teeth into. Instead of being the wallflower, use social occasions as a chance to amuse yourself.
Experience Massive Rejection
One of the biggest risks of being yourself is getting rejected. The girl might ignore you. The prospective employer may catch you off-guard with questions you have no idea how to answer (never mind that you could Google them in about five seconds). Your work might get strongly criticized, or even discarded.
The best way of getting over this fear, in my experience, is exposure therapy. To experience rejection on a massive scale, go out into the world and talk to everyone. Don’t go out with the intention of getting anything, just do it to prove to yourself that rejection is no big deal. As I’ve mentioned before, you can even give a friend some money and try to earn it back for each person you talk to, a few dollars at a time. Another enlightening lesson is to invite one of your “natural” buddies (you know, the guys who seem to get all the women without even trying) to do these approaches too. Then you’ll see that naturals get constantly rejected too.
While rejection comes in many forms, from getting cut from the basketball team to having your most prized work be thrown away, I find that social skydiving provides the most direct lessons in the art of getting blown out, and it’s a great way to build character. :)
Remember that no matter what you do, how you dress, how you act, what you say, or what your opinions are, you will polarize people. Some girls, for example, will look at you like you’re an alien from another planet. Others will think you’re a fire hydrant with feet. So you might as well just be yourself, and gravitate towards only those who amuse you.
Make Talking to Strangers a Habit
While the previous exercise is meant to be short-lived, I’m also a big fan of making meeting people a habit. Though some kamikaze social experimentation can be instructive, talking to people you don’t know on a regular basis will help you develop reusable social skills and a capacity to deal with social pressure.
Not only is this a great way to meet people, and even get dates, but it can teach you a lot about not caring what people think. For example, you’ll eventually realize that you can open a conversation with absolutely anything. And even that HUGE pimple on your nose and a bad hair day don’t have to impede your ability to connect with strangers.
All that time you spend worrying about what to say or “being cool” is for naught. What matters most is your energy. Not entertainment monkey gymnastic energy, but the awe-inspiring courage you have to go for exactly what you want and make yourself vulnerable.
Don’t Get High on Positive Feedback
I get feedback from readers every single day about this blog and it’s almost unanimously positive. And while it’s extremely rewarding to connect with people in a way that inspires them to change their lives, I don’t define myself by reader opinion. If you start believing people when they tell you how much you rock, then you’ll start believing them when they tell you how much you suck.
Moderate your emotional response. Be the impartial spectator observing the emotional sugar rush you get from a good reaction, and the pain and frustration you feel from being criticized or shutdown. Use feedback as a chance to learn something, but don’t let it mess with your head.
Likewise, don’t take ownership of nasty responses. Think about it: If a girl is truly happy with herself, enjoying life, thankful for being where she is, and at peace with the world around her, why would she look at you like you’re an alien just because you said hi?
Realize that the way a person reacts to the world around them says more about the person than the world around them. Angry people react angrily. Depressing people bring sadness to every circumstance. Complainers will always find something wrong.
While you might say that you don’t care what other people think, truly living authentically is another matter. You can hide the truth from other people, but you can’t hide it from yourself.
It’s not about what you say, but what you feel. The best way to know that you’re living an authentic life is to listen to your emotions. Are you living paycheque to paycheque emotionally, relying on the occasional positive response to give you a much-needed boost, or are you enjoying the riches of self-approval? Do you need a relationship to feel “complete” or do you blaze your own trail and let others come along for the ride? Would you trade your life for anyone else’s?
Caring what other people think will ensure you live a small life. The biggest risk we can take is to not risk being who we really are. No matter what you do, you will polarize people, so you might as well be yourself. You owe it to the world to be authentic.
The good news is that authenticity is a learnable skill. Like anything else, it all comes down to practice.
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