I’ve noticed my son saying, “No, I’ll look stupid,” in response to so many simple requests lately. It has been a bit of an awakening to realize that he cares so much about how other people see him.
There are times I’m fascinated in my observation of the lengths we humans will go to in order to please all of the people all of the time. So much so that we forget who we truly even are.
This is how we do it. We ALL do it.
Whatever we can do to come off favorably to others, we’re going to do it.
It comes back to that basic instinct that I refer to often. And I do this because it’s important to remember this programming is within all of us. It’s survival instinct. To not be accepted by the tribe used to mean life or death.
Now that tribe is a subset of all of society. Wherever you find yourself.
Today, it’s middle school for my son, and these years are difficult enough to navigate without layering in those elements of your authentic self and showing this part of you to the world.
What is that part of the world for you?
Your parents? Your partner?
Your work environment? Your extended family? Your clique of friends? Your online presence? That online world is vast and far-reaching isn’t it? That’s a hell of a lot of people to please.
That’s why we do it, though. We equate it with survival.
And it’s so crazy that most of the time, we don’t even see that all of the things that we do to try to make other people happy with us is really a form of manipulation on our part.
Think about it. Think about all of the things that we do and say in order to achieve a sense of approval from another person or many persons.
It’s an attempt to control their thoughts about us and it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous when you know how that really works.
Remember, everyone is living in their own movie with their own scripts and dialogues and translations and interpretations of words that they hear (or read). In short, we view our life experience as if we’re living in our own movie.
So, if my version of the movie that is my life doesn’t play out the same as yours, then the same would be true in reverse.
The cold, hard truth is that no matter what I do or say, you’re going to have your own interpretation of it. You’re going to make that mean whatever your brain suggests to you that you should make that mean.
And our brains aren’t as emotionally evolved as we’d like to think, my friends. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many of us aren’t even scratching the surface of our ability to manage our own damn minds.
We’re all just a bunch of children seeking approval. A bunch of kids expecting a trophy at the end of the season because that’s just how it works.
Everyone gets a trophy.
I’m not going to go off on a tangent about how absolutely destructive it has been for American society to say that everyone is a winner, and everyone gets a trophy. That’s NOT how life works, and it’s really fucked things up by creating a generation of super entitled people – I digress.
I’ll save that rant for another day.
It’s not necessarily “wrong” that we do this – seek approval. It’s how we’ve been conditioned…and over the course of our lives, it becomes second nature to think that the reason we are here at this time, in this life is to make all of the people happy with us.
Or at least not to hate us. At least not to be losers.
Because losing feels awful.
Having anger or hatred directed our way feels absolutely horrible.
It’s more than uncomfortable.
It’s downright painful.
Seek pleasure. Avoid pain. Basic instinct.
The pleasure comes when we receive that approval, or at least we imagine that we have it.
Someone says kind words, offers a promise or a sense of peace, love, belonging. Gives you a promotion and a raise. Offers you a lifelong commitment and puts a ring on it.
Filling that void.
Filling that empty cup.
Because you’re waiting to be lit up.
We start to attach our own self-worth to that approval.
We start to constantly question every move we make. Every word we speak or write.
How will this be received?
Will I be adored, or will I be despised?
It’s rarely anything in the middle, mind you. Our brains go straight to love me, hate me. There’s no in-between.
What will they think of me?
What will they think if I show up wearing this?
How will they see me?
How will they receive me?
Will they accept me or judge me?
Will I look stupid?
Will they laugh at me? Mock me? Tear me down with their words?
What will they think?
It’s crazy isn’t it? Because we have no idea what they will think. And we certainly have no control over what they might think, or what opinions they may form, or what judgments they could make.
It’s almost as if we have these assumptions that we could see into the minds of the people around us. As if we are able to interpret facial expressions with accuracy, to read between the lines of the words that are written or spoken and discern what they REALLY mean.
It’s absolute insanity.
None of that is within our control.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying like hell anyway.
Yes, it is part of our human nature, included in our basic instinct programming to care what other people think and to equate it with our very survival and in so doing, we go to the worst-case scenario.
Will I be banished from my family? Will they cut me off forever?
Will I lose this friendship that I value so much?
Would this be a career-damaging move?
Thoughts like these are constantly running through our brains in our subconscious. They end up driving our behaviors, leaving us to we wonder why we feel so shitty about ourselves both before and after the moment that we’re trying to make an impression, however small that may be.
The things we do for others at the expense of our own needs or desires can be endless.
It can be something as simple as the way that we style our hair to a major life decision such as attending medical school because that’s what our parents want us to do. That’s what is expected. That’s what is noble. That’s what is socially acceptable or revered.
That’s how we survive.
And knowing that each human being that we meet along the way will have his/her own experiences and interpretations and beliefs that will drive their response? Well, it must be exhausting to try to please them all.
It is precisely that. Exhausting.
It’s fine to wear a mask for a role and adopt a persona that you need to have in order to survive in this scene or that one, depending on the other characters involved. But when you do so without full awareness and as Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. explains, you attach your self-acceptance to the applause of others, you are setting yourself up for suffering.
Listen, no matter what you do in this life, no matter how much you plan, prepare, envision, or assume, people in your life will form their own opinions of you. They will judge you. They will mock you. They will berate you. Expect it. Acknowledge it as part of the perfectly imperfect human experience.
People in your life will also be drawn to you, support you, adore you, defend you, and love you fiercely. That is also part of the perfectly imperfect human experience.
Your work is to embrace it for all that it is. The ugly, messy parts of it as much as the gloriously beautiful parts of it. And everything boring and mundane in between.
This is truly living in freedom.
“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” – Rumi
When you have this awareness, it doesn’t hold you back from showing up as exactly the person that you are or that you long to become.
Whatever anyone else thinks about it is on them. That’s part of their movie.
Don’t make it about yours.
This post is a partial transcript from my podcast, What Lights You Up – Episode 21. I invite you to enjoy the full episode and subscribe on Spotify or Apple!