I was thrilled to find Michelle Obama's new book; The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times at the local library. There was no hesitation in reaching for it, even though it was only a 7-day loan.
A prominent theme in Michelle's writing is her struggle with self-acceptance. She always felt that she "stood out" in a self-conscious way. This became especially evident when she attended Princeton for her undergraduate studies. Here she came face to face with her "differentness". She had always been acutely aware of her tall stature (5'11"), but now she was a Black woman in a white, male-dominated academic institution. In her own head, she re-wrote the story of her life by saying to herself:
"I'm tall and that's a good thing
I'm a woman and that's a good thing
I'm Black and that's a good thing
I am myself and that is a very good thing."
Michelle had an exceptional role model who inspired her in the process of learning to celebrate herself exactly as she was. Her father's motto was "No one can make you feel bad if you feel good about yourself." In Michelle's words, "My father did not worry about how others saw him. He was good with himself, clear about his own worth, centered despite being physically unbalanced." (He suffered from multiple sclerosis.)
How can you and I learn the lesson of not caring so much about the opinion of others? Here are 5 suggestions you can try.
Realize that you cannot please everyone.
There are more than 7 billion people on this planet. Trying to please them all is entirely impossible. If you aim to please one person, you are certain to displease another. According to Bill Cosby, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
I found this very apt cartoon that says it better than I can:
Recognize that you cannot control other people's opinions
Part of living a happy and balanced life is to recognize that there are things in life that you have no control over. One of those things is what other people think about you. If you have no control over it, why waste your energy on it?
Recognize that nobody is perfect, not even you!
Not caring so much about others' opinions does not mean that we should totally ignore them, acknowledging that sometimes they might have a valid point. We can often learn from our mistakes with a little help from others' suggestions.
Other People don't think about you nearly as much as you might have thought.
Winston Churchill said, "When you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60, you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place." Most people are fairly self-focused, and it is surprising how little they actually pay attention to other people's lives.
Be your authentic Self.
The problem comes when we care more about others' opinions than our own personal convictions, values and beliefs. If people's opinions of us stop us from being true to ourselves, we are robbed of our ability to be authentic. When we follow our own passion and goals for our lives, we automatically stop caring less about what others think of us. We are too busy living our best lives to pay attention to others' opinions about us.
It is perfectly normal for us to care about what others think about us - we are biologically programmed to do so from our earliest days on this planet. We gaze into our caregivers' eyes, mirror the expressions on their faces, learn to laugh and express ourselves as humans by imitating the behaviours that are modelled for us. However, at some point as adults we become more autonomous and independent in our responses.
We must release the grip of approval addiction on our lives. Can we be okay with who we are, learning to totally accept ourselves, flaws and all? Can we stop basing our self-worth on our number of Facebook likes? Can we accept that not everybody has to like or approve of us at all times?
I want to finish this post by repeating Michelle Obama's words of self-acceptance:
I am myself and that is a very good thing!