Jennifer O. Grimes

The Inner Voice

But What Will They Think of Me?

How to stop overvaluing others' opinions of you

Posted Dec 08, 2014


Introverts ask me this all the time – not the shy ones, necessarily, but they weigh in, too—so I felt that this deserves its own blog. The truth is that we all do care, but it doesn’t have to bother you so much. We all have to care what others think of us because having people like us is how we are able to guarantee that we have help when we need it, ensure the support and continued amiability of friends, be recommended for promotions at work, and impress that really awesome person we hope to date. Of course people need to like us. But how? And whom?

The key to mastering this worry is simple: consider relevance. If I’m walking down the street, totally lost, and I walk past the same somewhat amused gentleman four times before asking him for directions, then no, I am not embarrassed when he smirks upon my fifth or sixth meandering past him. His opinion of my navigational abilities is totally irrelevant to any of my life success, even if it is a good opportunity to share a laugh with a stranger. A research collaborator’s opinion of my choice of dress color is similarly irrelevant (salmon really is an okay color), but his opinion of my choice of research topic and the approach I assume is clearly relevant. Someone’s opinion of your appearance is conditionally relevant: others must believe that you appear professional and neat, but there is only ultimately one other human being who actually needs to think you're attractive if you are monogamous. Who cares what other men or women think if you are not interested in attracting them? (In fact, having the wrong people interested gets uncomfortably complicated.). Others are, at best, only capable of establishing some form of consensus to which you hope that someone who is actually relevant adheres. But how accurate is that?? This actually applies pretty generally. Do you have to impress or outdo your ex or a former friend? No, because by definition, their opinions are now irrelevant. The opinions they used to have were relevant, but they aren’t anymore. 

Other people are confined to their own perspectives and limited knowledge and can’t really be used as proxies for your actual knowledge of your ability, potential, or what you’ll make of your life. You’re making those up as you go along! If anything, allowing negative opinions to inform your self-opinion does nothing more than help you self-limit and self-doubt. 

So before you start wondering what other people think of you and worrying about how you come across, ask yourself if it’s relevant. Understand that when you are doing the best that you can, to the right people, that is right. Any lingering negativity lasts only as long as you let it because you’re assigning the relevance by making this important to you.