There’s a quote I’ve heard tossed around by different folks on different occasions, and it always feels like one of those pieces of advice that sounds good but is, in actuality, impossible.
“What others think of you is none of your business.”
It’s like when I was in third grade, and a boy in my class was constantly teasing me, and my parents told me to ignore him and he would leave me alone. And I get their point — as a thirty-three year old, I can see how ignoring him probably would’ve worked. But as an eight year old? I could no more ignore him than I could solve quadratic equations. His words stung. His actions embarrassed me. Ignoring him was simply not in my skill set. Instead I reacted to him, I was afraid of him, I changed my behaviors because of him.
I’ve felt that same way about the little adage encouraging me to ignore what others think of me. I’ve scoffed at it. “I’m sorry,” I’ve said. “That’s not in my skill set.” I’ve reacted to other people’s statements. I’ve even reacted to what I think other people might think.
And yet, I’ve come to a place where I realize this caring, this making it my business, this constant concern — it’s impeding me. It’s stopping me from moving in the directions I want to move. Of course, it always has been. That’s the point of the quote.
But I’ve recently realized that there are some areas where I just don’t want to accept it anymore. I want the words, “That’s none of my business” to be on the tip of my tongue whenever I need them.
I want my own gut to lead me, not the knowledge (or my perception) of what others think.
As it turns out, that’s fairly difficult. After thirty-three years of caring, the off-switch is not easy to find.
Baby steps. We learn and re-learn one step at a time, and I’ve discovered that sometimes the only way to ignore what others think is to remove the possibility of them thinking anything. There are times when you send your dreams out into the world and let them fly. But there are also times — and it’s important to know the difference — when your dreams are fragile and must be held close to your heart, safe from any outside judgment.
I’ve been working on a novel off and on for a year. The writing is in its early stages, and I feel tender and uncertain about my abilities to take on something so big. As much as I might want to internalize the mantra “what others think of me (or my work) is none of my business,” I know that I would be affected — hurt, angered, moved, influenced — by the opinions of others. I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. But because I know that about myself, I can take steps to protect this project, this dream, in its early stages.
Now is the time for me to write everything I need to write without giving one thought to what others might think, without giving one thought to whether it’s good or not, whether it’s what people want to read or not.
And in order to do that, all of those words must remain for my eyes only.