I frequently have these awkward moments where I’m walking down the street and someone is coming straight at me. I immediately check myself and realize I’m on the correct side (that’s the right, by the way, in 99% of civilized society.) I make eye contact, narrowing my lids so they know I mean business, my way of saying “I’m walkin’ here!” (a tiny Al Pacino lives in my head, sticking up for me at all times, ready to duel in my honor.)
The intruder on my side of the street doesn’t move and they’re getting closer and closer, and I’m thinking to myself the entire time “do not move, do not swerve, you will defend your side of the street like you defend only one of two turkey legs at Thanksgiving.” They get closer, making no indication they will politely move. It’s a Formula 1 race and Max Verstappen and his pride are defending the inner corner even if a crash is inevitable.
It’s in that split second before we’re about to collide that my self-respect is tested, and unfortunately I lose every time. I move at the last second, the other person plowing into the edge of my shoulder (or hitting me with her purse if it’s a woman, ladies you know what I’m talking about.) I carry on, deflated and ashamed, my ego has shrunk like Ant Man.
If you’re a lion, your very survival depends completely on whether or not the other lions in your pack like you. Since you don’t want to die of starvation, you have to watch every move you make and hope you’ll be accepted. You have to make sure your mane is luscious and fluffy, and you don’t want to growl anything ridiculous that the other lions would laugh at or you’ll be banished from the watering hole by Mufasa himself.
The cavemen lived in exactly the same way which is why, even though we’ve evolved as human beings, we’re still cave dwellers on the inside (look in a men’s locker room if you need a more visual representation) fearing what other people think of us.
Deep down, our fear of judgement is really rooted in the fact that most of us are “people pleasers.” When most people think about what a people pleaser is, they might imagine the person who says “whatever you want” when asked where they want to eat dinner (this is me by the way, and it drives my husband bananas.)
Being a people pleaser means caring more about what other people think of you than what you think about yourself. When a stranger gets annoyed with me it spreads a white, hot heat across my heart and I allow that energy to sit in my body for the rest of the day. I shame spiral deep into carrot cake and Doritos and Youtube videos about morning routines, berating myself for not eating more quinoa and drinking green smoothies, hating myself for not acting how they wanted me to.
Something that really gets under my skin is when a stranger talks down to me or treats me like I’m beneath them. It makes me feel lower than Bikini Bottom, in the depths of the ocean. I’m going to share with you something that I wrote while I was traveling in Turkey, about 5 years ago.
I sit here now, treating myself to a box of After Eight mints and listening to Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 (this girl is seriously my soul mate, and girl crush; we could stay in every Friday night baking cookies and watching Grey’s Anatomy.)
I went to the grocery store to buy cheerios this morning, and I was in a bad mood, I could tell. So, of course, what happens when you’re mood is really off and you don’t want to be around anyone? The whole world seems to find joy in screwing with you.
A woman with her mother and child was putting a huge amount of groceries on the only register open and she was trying to move the cart out of the way. So, being the kind and polite person I am, I went out of my way to move the cart and even put it away for her. I wasn’t expecting a trophy or anything, a “thank you” would suffice. But what does she do? She doesn’t give me a thank you or even a backward glance; just pretends like I don’t exist or like I’m some kind of shopping cart valet. Then, she decided she forgot something. I had to stand there for a full 7 minutes while she went to get the item she forgot. It was a KitKat bar! A freaking KitKat bar!
After this whole debacle I was fuming mad, and the guy at the register had the nerve to roll his eyes at me because I gave him an extra quarter. But I didn’t yell or get angry or even give anyone a mean face. I shrank into myself, looking like someone had just kicked my puppy.
When I wrote this, I was feeling judged. I felt so low because I allowed their actions to change how I felt about myself, and why? Ding ding ding! I’m a people pleaser. I couldn’t stand the fact that the woman saw me as unimportant, and that some random guy was angry with me. Going through life constantly feeling like you’re under the watchful eye of society, you learn to act the way other people want you to act, and when you don’t measure up, you feel ashamed.
You learn to censor yourself and your goals. You allow others to dictate decisions that you and you alone have to live with. If you want to write a book but your best friend thinks your crazy, who will have to live with the regret of never going for it? Certainly not your friend.
Brene Brown, vulnerability researcher and all-around bad ass female, said “A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
In yoga, balancing requires that you look at one spot in front of you and if you look back or turn around, you will lose your balance and fall. If you spend all your time looking to other people around you to tell you how to live your life you will inevitably fall flat on your face.
We spend our lives trying to get everyone to like us, trying to get people to see us as important, trying to get someone else to believe in our dreams, yet in the end we forget the most important opinion of all: our own.