Let’s not kid ourselves: Everyone cares about what others think to an extent. As humans, we all want to be accepted, and so conversely, we’re all afraid of rejection. We also like to follow the herd, even when it leads us off a cliff or into our pain. It feels ‘safe’ and ‘familiar’, less threatening. 

When we care a little or a lot too much about what others think, we will forgo ourselves, including what we truly need and want, if we don’t have a consensus. But how can we ‘general agreement’, when there’s only one us and everyone has their own ‘stuff’ going on? It’s like trying to cup the ocean in our hands or attempting to herd cats. 

If everyone were “like us” or even “the same”, it would make sense to a certain degree to get their take, to want their consensus. But there’s only one you. Asking people for their opinion on what you ‘should’ be and do has limited value because they’re not you.

News flash: They don’t have the same combination of backstory, needs, desires, feelings, expectations, opinions, motivations, fears, intentions, plans, circumstances, resources, level of abundances, personality or characteristics. Their feedback has limited value.

What does “people won’t approve” mean to you?

Write that down. So how would you know if someone actually disapproves of you? What do they say and do? Bearing in mind that you’re not living inside of them, you don’t know what they feel and think. 

What makes you think they won’t? What do you think, feel and do that creates the impression, the fear that you are opening yourself up to disapproval? And how much of this is cold hard facts? Most importantly, how much of this actually matters in the grander scheme of things?

I knew someone who spent years avoiding going out with men from other races because she thought her parents wouldn’t approve based on a comment her father made when she was a teen. This went on for over two decades. One day, they got into a conversation about interracial relationships. Imagine her shock when it turned out that he hadn’t given two figs about the race of the person she went out with for most of those two decades. That, and he’d figured that she was a grown-up, free to make her own decisions. 

No one in my family said, “Yes, Natalie, write Baggage Reclaim!”

They definitely thought it was a bad idea for me to leave my job in advertising. My co-workers and bosses thought I was mad. I’m glad I didn’t listen. The billionaire creator of Spanx kept her ideas and plans to herself for over a year because she knew that as well-meaning as her loved ones might be, they’d talk her out of it. 

Let’s say that you decide you want to do something and someone isn’t into it. Does it really matter? Will it matter in the future? Probably not. If they’re saying that they disapprove because you’re planning to cut off their leg, I get it. If they’re saying they disapprove of decisions pertaining to your life, your bandwidth, your boundaries, thank them for their feedback, and then make up your own mind.

Criticism is a form of feedback, and it is one person’s (or a group of similarly minded people’s) idea about how to do something, not a court order. It’s not The Way. 

Also, humans love disapproving of, well, everything. Don’t believe me? Just go on social media. And while some people disapprove because they judge something as wrong or unlikable or whatever, a helluva lot of so-called disapproval is about fear of change. Humans love disapproving of anything that takes them out of their comfort zone, flies in the face of the story they’re telling themselves, or that prompts fear about what it would be like if they were to do the same thing.

Disapproval can also be subjective, though, so make sure you’re not projecting your self-criticism and bias towards assuming you’re ‘wrong’ or not ‘good enough’ on to others.

If they haven’t actually said they disapprove, crack on.

If they have said they disapprove, thank them for letting you know how they feel, and then crack on.

And here’s something else to keep in mind: Do you approve of everything others do? Do they go ahead anyway? Do you still give them the time of day? Exactly.

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