On Other People’s Opinions

This was originally published on Windrose Magazine Blog. I felt all sorts of angsty after I published my last piece and got caught up in what other people were thinking that I completely missed the point of this page in the first place. So here’s a reminder that we shouldn’t worship other people’s

Last year, I was given the opportunity to co-start a mental health initiative and grow its influence. This one small project birthed in me a greater passion to create my own platform and share my own messy stories to help others know their worth. I wish I could say I immediately started hustling to bring this vision to life. Instead, I spent hours upon hours lying in bed watching ‘Worst X-Factor Auditions.’

You see, I knew I had the potential to create something impactful. I’ve fought through my own darkness and have sat with enough friends in the thick of their mess to know that there is a whole army of people who need to know they are not hopeless. But whenever I took any steps to bring it to reality, I would get shut down by fear and sent back to the depths of YouTube.

Fear crops up all over our lives wearing different disguises to keep us distracted and stuck in one place. He showed up when I contemplated setting up the website. He banged on my door when I wanted to publish my first words to the world. He came and knocked me over when it was time to be vulnerable and tell more people about my craft. Sometimes he appeared as a fear of failure and other times as fear of rejection. But his favourite way to stop me in my tracks is to breed in me the fear of what other people think.

I’ve legitimately been paralysed from moving forward because of the things people have said about me. I’ve kept passions and desires to myself because others might say it’s ‘silly’ or I wasn’t ‘qualified.’ There have been days when I’ve been too afraid to speak up because of potential ‘backlash,’ and months where I’ve ended up alone because I’d stood up for my values. There are stories I’ve held tightly to my chest, and opportunities I’ve turned down because it would mean exposing more of my life to the public and what ‘they’ think. I could spend hours writing about the loss of support and all the heaviness I’ve felt from carrying around the things people have said about me like stones in a backpack.  

It wasn’t until I was listening to my friend share her story that it all clicked for me. With steaming mugs of chai in our hands and a half-eaten brownie sitting between us, she told me how people used to mock her on the bus because she didn’t fit in. How her teacher’s ‘advice’ was not to bother re- taking her exams because she probably get better. How no one thought she would ever clean up her act enough to get a decent job and out of the mess she was stuck in.  

“But you know what?” she told me, a smile spreading across her face. “Two years ago, I was awarded a prize for being the number one student in Journalism. I’m launching, not one, but two businesses in the summer. And I’m getting married in three months. I didn’t let other people’s opinions define me, and now look where I am.”

***

Maybe you have a history of people putting you down. Maybe your story is full of characters who treat gossiping like an Olympic sport. Maybe you’ve let other people convince you to stay small. Perhaps you received one snarky comment and ever since then you’ve been too afraid to tell the world about your craft.

Here’s the kicker: you get to choose who influences your life. You choose whose voice you listen to and whose opinions carry the most weight. Everyone will have something to say. Some people will declare it with love. Others will speak in hushed whispers intending to keep you small. Either way, you decide if you’ll let it hold you back.

The beautiful yet frustrating thing about us humans is how inconsistent we can be. Our opinions are malleable and can change from one day to the next. I can know someone for years and not feel any spark, but one day I can look up and it all changes. Because people only have a one-dimensional view of who you are. They see you through the lens of whatever experiences they’ve had and whatever baggage they’re holding on to. We’d forever be running a losing race if we tried to stay ahead of other people’s thoughts. You could do everything ‘right’ and say everything ‘right,’ and someone will still find a reason to have a problem with you.

But here’s what will never change:

You – beautifully complex you – are not defined by people’s negative opinions.

You – who are worth more than diamonds and called to be a light- are not meant to stay small.

You- who are sometimes a little messy and hasn’t got life figured out yet-  are more than the one-dimensional perspective others have of you.

Irrespective of who thinks you’re ‘good enough,’ or ‘smart enough’ or only a solid ‘6/10,’ it shouldn’t stop you from going after what you want.

It would be a great disservice to the world and to the God who created you if you hid parts of yourself away because you were scared of what people think.

So pursue your calling. Apply for the job. Post the photo. Tell your story. Don’t let the fear of other people’s judgement rob you from doing what you love. We only get this short little life to live. It would break your heart if you never stood up and moved forward because you were worried of what other people would say.

We don’t get to control many things in life. But we do get to control this.

Mind Your Business Pt II

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“Too many people know about my writing so now I can’t write anymore!!” I texted him.

I was sitting at a café staring at the ominous blank page, racking my brain for absolutely anything to fill up the white space. The barista placed my latte next to me and promptly left my side. He’d learned the hard way never to talk to me when I was hunched over my laptop with my hands in my hair and a manic look on my face. Every time I tried typing, I would cringe at the idea of certain people reading and immediately delete all my words.

“Brahhh stop.” was my friend’s eloquent reply. I could feel the eyeroll he was giving me from halfway around the world. “You gotta stop caring.”

As much as I hated to admit it, he- and the five other people- I’d texted in a blind panic- were right. We have to stop worrying about what people think.

 ***

When the seed to start writing and use my words as a vessel for the broken-hearted was first planted, I was adamant to see it through. But as the seed burst open and my platform started growing, so did fear. Fear was this weed that kept wrapping itself around my dreams and desires to slowly choke the life out of them. One scrawny plant after another cropped up in multiple ways intending to stunt my growth. I was too scared to pitch publications. I was afraid of letting people know I wanted to write. I feared not being an original or not having a voice. I struggled hard with letting the public read my words.

Left unchecked, fear- like weeds — will steal all the energy you could be using to grow your vision and leave you depleted. When you could be out there spreading your message, you instead stay stuck in one spot consumed with lie after lie. When I could have been boldly declaring my mission and pushing forward, I remained fixated on other people’s opinions and only limited my corner of the internet to my closest friends.

But then doors started opening. Companies asked to hear my stories and write for them. My words were chosen to launch the new season of a newsletter that landed in the inbox of 500 women worldwide. More and more emails were flying into my inbox asking to publish my articles. I knew sooner or later the world was going to know I was claiming the title ‘Writer.’

I’m guilty of killing off secret dreams because of one negative remark. I’ve spent hours texting friends, asking them to over-analyse every backhand comment that’s been sent my way. I’ve wasted legitimate amounts of time fretting over whether or not to promote my work or start a website or be honest about depression and all his friends, because I’ve been worried about the things people may say or think.

But as Girlboss Rachel Hollis says: “It’s none of your business what other people think about you.” 

***

We’re taught from young to always seek out guidance and an objective opinion. We schedule coffee dates with mentors, counsellors and working professionals, to ask their advice on our growth and what our next steps should be. I was once hellbent on packing up my life and moving to Budapest to be a party host. Many people had to gently advise me that that wasn’t the best career option for me.

But there’s a vast difference between seeking wise counsel and letting just any random person speak into your life. There’s a difference between asking for genuine feedback and letting someone’s snarky comments change your trajectory.

Someone will always have something to say about what you’re doing- and they’re absolutely allowed to have their opinions. But that doesn’t mean you have to know what it is. You don’t have to poke and pry or ask your friends to be your spy network to find out exactly what it is people are saying about you. Whatever their opinion is, you most certainly don’t have to let it influence your life.

You could lie in bed for hours consumed with thoughts over the people who will scoff at your mission or the friends who used to show up for you but fell off the grid at the first sign of your success. You could keep fixating on who isn’t there anymore and what they might be saying. You could be so focused on the gaps in the bleachers that you completely miss out on the fact you have die-hard fans waving celebratory banners in the front row.

***

“I’ve been thinking about you lately,” my friend turned to me as I nestled in the seat next to her. “I’ve been thinking about what you told me the other night. About how you’d been too scared to post this and publish that. It saddens me, Ash.”

“You have your own unique way of speaking, of writing and the way you tell stories. And you shouldn’t hide any of that because you’re scared of what other people will think. So long as you have good intentions, that’s all that matters. If other people have a problem with you, that’s their problem.”

She’s right.

There are jokes, stories and ideas only you can come up with. No one can captivate a room or hold someone’s attention the way you do. Someone somewhere is hoping you’ll show up tonight . People need you to bring the ideas buzzing around your head to life. The stories you’re keeping close to your chest because it’s too shameful or embarrassing, could be someone else’s lifeline. What you think are all the crazy messy parts of you, somebody else finds endearing.

The you that you are now is someone’s first choice.

We shouldn’t be chopping off parts of ourselves or changing our dreams based off other people’s expectations. People walk in and out of our lives all the time. At the end of the day you’re the one who will have to sit with the person you’ve become. I pray that person will be the one that stays true to your uninhibited self.

It would be a great disservice to the world and to the God who created you if you hid parts of yourself away because you were scared of what people think.

 Don’t speculate over what people may or may not be thinking about you or your craft. Don’t ask for the ‘reviews.’ Don’t worry about what they’ll write or say about you. Unless they’re good and wise counsel, just take whatever ‘advice’ they try to give you with a smile, a thank you and a wave goodbye.

Mind your business.


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