YES Or NO: Does It REALLY Matter What Other People Think Of You?

Written by Michael Cummings on June 10, 2017

You are not what you think you are.

You are not what others think you are.

You are what you think others think you are.

Self-help is a big business, so much so that in the US alone it’s an approximately $11 billion industry. As cheesy and ineffective as some motivational speakers and “gurus” are, people like Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, and Tim Ferriss represent a multitude of people who really have helped improve the lives of others.

In a recent LinkedIn Pulse article titled “16 Things Your Successful Friends Have Given Up”, Tim Denning, an Australian entrepreneur and contributor to the blog said the following of #15, “They’ve given up on people’s opinion of them.”

Your successful friends couldn’t give a rats a$$ what anyone thinks about them. They’re not trying to impress anyone other than themselves. That’s why they’re not afraid to have a go and fail.

Eh…not quite.

Strict adherence to this phrase has always puzzled me. On one hand, you can imagine how difficult and ineffectual our lives would be if we “checked in” with even one or two of the people closest to us before brushing our teeth in the morning. On the other, what if no one’s opinion mattered to you for anything, menial or monumental? Reckless and “flaming spiral” would be fair descriptions of a life lived in such manner.

People starting out in life make a series of mistakes most older adults do not, often because they think they’re invincible or at least don’t have to pay the consequences when they screw up. On a really rainy day in my early twenties, I blazed up Highway 100 in the Minneapolis area. My chosen off ramp is almost 90 degrees. What do you think happened when I tried to take the exit at 50 mph? Rain-soaked tires don’t grip very well, and my 1989 Honda Accord wasn’t engineered to grab turns that sharp at that speed. The totally avoidable stunt cost my parents $1,800 (probably $5,000+ now). I was so embarrassed and felt so guilty for what I had done that I immediately started driving more responsibly. In other words, I cared very much that they thought I was reckless, and I should have cared. Unless parents are murderers or otherwise toxic to our lives, caring what they think of us builds and maintains character. So, too, with spouses and children.

The flip side of this is caring too much. If we are afraid of what people will think or say when learning a new subject or skill, we will not learn anything to the degree or speed possible. Whether in a classroom, workplace, gym, gun range, or in just having your highly skilled neighbor teach you how to re-tile your shower (yep), if we let our fear of being embarrassed stop us from learning, learning is compromised.

Context is key. The husband half of the leader couple in our church group is rabidly anti-gun, and has on more than one occasion issued choice words about guns and, by association, gun owners. At first, it bothered me, but after a time I stopped caring. As good a man as he is and despite what he and his wife have done to help keep my marriage strong, his head is up his butt on this subject. I know I’m right about guns and the Second Amendment, and I know he’s wrong. But I’m not going to let his warped opinion of the facts keep me from having him be part of my life. In this context, I couldn’t care less.

So it’s not that we should never care what people think, or always care, but we should value what we can learn from one another (good and bad), value our God-given inherent worth, and value our own judgment in gauging when and to what degree we let the opinions of others influence how we act.

photo credit: photo credit: d_t_vos The Man on the Tribune via photopin (license)

Share if you agree it’s important to not concern yourself with other peoples’ opinions of you — except for those times when it IS important to do so.

Michael Cummings
Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.