"Why do you care what people think of you?" "Be yourself." "Real friends like you for who you are."
I've said the above quotes, been told the above quotes, and I've read the above quotes on lots of FaceBook memes. I agree that we shouldn't live our lives trying to be something we're not. We should strive to be our authentic selves and love who we are. Yet, we have an innate need to be accepted by everyone we meet. When we're not, we feel inadequate and worry that there's something wrong with us.
I've stayed up nights, going over conversations that I had with others throughout the day. Did I say the right thing at the right time? Did I listen closely enough? Did I come across confident or arrogant? It's incredible that I ever allow myself to be around people. I've had to learn to quiet the voice that constantly wants to second guess myself to death. I take a step back and ask myself, "Did you hurt anyone's feelings and say something rude or offensive?" If the answer is yes, then I make sure I apologize. If the answer is no, then I need to go back to sleep.
Growing up, we learn what behavior is appropriate and acceptable. I remember being in the store with my mother when I was four years old. There was a woman in line with us. I looked at her and said, "You're fat." The woman started to cry. My mother was furious. "Why would you say something so hurtful?" I didn't mean to. I was making an observation, but here I am, a half-century later, and I still feel bad I made that woman cry. It was a big lesson I learned that day of how harmful words can be. I may not always say everything right, but I know I would never intentionally insult anyone again.
I believe we all care about how others perceive us. We want to know that our contribution to society and to our family is valued and appreciated. We may not always say and do everything perfectly, but we try. The challenges we overcome and the accomplishments we make, happen because of the people in our world. We want to love and be loved. We want our life to have purpose and be meaningful.
We shouldn't conform to what someone else thinks we should be. We instinctively know what sides of our personality we share depending on who we're with. The professional mindset and attitude are for my business associates. The silly, playful side of me is for my young nephew. The 'take no prisoners' philosophy is reserved for my friends and family. It's all still me. I know it would be inappropriate to ask a client to go Zombie hunting with me. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't even know where to look.
Not everyone will like or acknowledge our gifts, that's okay. Some people are not meant to be part of our lives. They may show up to teach but are not going to overstay their welcome. We're the only ones that can decide how we want to improve and better ourselves.
I want you to believe in your strengths and abilities. Know that every day is a chance to learn and grow. Be grateful for the beautiful people in your life who love you for you. I know I do.