Something happened a few months ago. I can’t fully explain it, but it pretty much went down like this: I suddenly started caring way more about what other people think. I’d love to say I have always been someone who lets things roll off my shoulders, but unfortunately, that would be a lie. I lived most of my life really caring, as in it really mattered to me what others thought about me. And then somewhere along the way, by the grace of God and God alone, I stopped caring so much. It was a good thing. I suddenly realized that the opinions of others don’t define me. And with that, I realized that life is too short to worry what other people think. And while I still allowed others to have a voice in my life, I held tight to that truth- that the opinions of others don’t define me.
But then, without warning, that detrimental people pleasing spirit snuck up from behind. No warning. Nothing. Just like that, I was my old people pleasing, people fearing self. I no longer believed that the opinions of others don’t define me.
It snuck into every single area of my life. How I parent my child, how we handle our finances, how I run my business, what I write about, and every possible area in between was suddenly up for question. All of the confidence I had in the depths of my core was suddenly not enough.
Because I wanted to know that everyone else believed in me the same way I believe in me.
And again, I suddenly wasn’t enough for myself. I became distraught over the opinions of others, and even more so over the conflicting opinions of others in my life. I found myself obsessing over the inadequacies of “me.” How could I possibly find happiness if all those around me weren’t pleased with my every decision?
But then I realized something profound. I realized the why behind the what. The reason that I suddenly caved to insecurities was because I had been labeled. Not once. Not twice. But multiple times. I was labeled by others as things that I didn’t identify with.
I found my head and heart at war with one another.
And then a funny thing happened. I pigeonholed myself. Not into the boxes that were labeled as me, but into another box. That box was labeled with determination to prove myself to be the opposite of all the other labels. I devoted my time and energy to proving others wrong because I didn’t want to be the person I was labeled as.
Then one day I was reading a friend’s post on her makeup business. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of it, but what I do remember is that she had gotten a good bit of criticism about what she does. (For the record, she is a highly successful independent consultant for a rapidly growing makeup company). She didn’t go on and on to defend herself. Instead, she stated a few things and then made the bold statement that changed my life. She said, “Your opinions don’t pay my bills.”
Although it wasn’t about money or my bills, her statement struck me. A cloud lifted and I realized the forgotten truth.
The opinions of others don’t define me.
And then I realized something else. I have been a fraud. For several months I have lived my life attempting to please others by defying the negative definitions that had been placed over my life. My time and energy was no longer spent being true to myself and my passions, but rather I spent my time attempting to be someone I am not. I gave way too much power to words that didn’t reflect who I am truly am. I have been pretending to be someone I am not, all in hopes of dodging every false label that was spoken over me. And while I am still in the process of recovering from that phase, here is what I have learned so far:
Defining others can be near abusive at times. When we place a label on a spouse, a family member, or a friend, we have no idea the damage that can do. Why? Because when defined a certain way we often feel like we are forced to fit the mold of one very narrow definition, or that we are not allowed to be more than that one label. Or perhaps we feel like that label is truly wrong, and we drive ourselves crazy with the desire to prove that.
When others force us into narrow definitions, we often lose ourselves.
Whether it’s because we don’t feel we can give voice to parts of ourselves outside of that definition, or that we feel we need to alter ourselves to change the definition, we can slowly (or in my case, rapidly) spiral. When we believe we are only as deep as one shallow definition, we begin to limit ourselves. In some cases it looks like conforming to the definition, and in other cases it looks like neglecting our true selves to try to become a version of ourselves that isn’t true.
But here’s the most brutal truth of all. Remember how I said, “when others force us into a narrow definition?”
No one can force you to do anything. So while we feel forced, the reality is that we are in control of our response to these things. Every time someone labels us, defines us, or places us in a box, we get to choose whether or not we want to stay there.
So here’s my plea to you. Make a choice to be true to yourself. Allow others to speak into your life, but don’t let their opinions define you. And when others do label you, take a step back and allow yourself time to process whether or not their statement is true.
You have a choice, and I have a choice. We get to be the version of ourself that we desire, that we create, that we refine, and that we enjoy. Our confidence in our ability to succeed comes not from the opinions from others, but from our own self esteem.
Don’t give power to the statements of others that don’t reflect who you truly are.
The opinions of others don’t define me, and they don’t define you.