If there is one phrase that really bothers me no end, it is the words “What will people think”. I heard those words a lot growing up and even as a teenager it didn’t sound right or fair that everything I did depended on what people would think. I can laugh about it now, but I certainly wasn’t laughing being told as a teenager that I couldn’t go out with my friends because I had been out two days in a row and my mum didn’t want people to think I was wayward. My first gripe about this was that it didn’t apply to my brothers, which was highly unfair. Secondly, I couldn’t fathom how or why these “people” would be interested in keeping tabs on how often I went out or stayed in. Did they not have anything better to do? So I began to rebel in little ways. But of course by that time, the people pleasing foundation had been set and it has taken years (still counting) to shift it. I totally understand that my mum comes from a different generation and her motives were to protect me from potential judgemental, back stabbing, gossip mongers especially as we lived in a society with very traditional and sexist views of how a “good girl” should behave. If you come from a culture or background with strong traditions, values and beliefs, it can be so tough going against norms followed by your parents, uncles, aunties and Mrs “So and So’s daughter or “Mr So and So’s” son.

Some people are very conformist and love it. Life is good when they follow established customs and traditions. To them “this is the way things have always been done” and they see no need to question, challenge or change it. But if you are striving for your own way, to be authentic and true to yourself, it can be an arduous battle to fight against scripts embedded in your mind from a young age. So much so, that even when you are a full-fledged independent adult, making your own decisions, you still find yourself operating within boundaries and limitations of “what people will think”.  Many people are conflicted between two worlds; daring to be true to themselves or conforming to the opinions and ideals of others. Conflicted between giving up a soul destroying unfulfilling but “reputable” job for one that pays much less but ignites your passion. But what will people think? Or keeping up the façade of bliss in an abusive and toxic relationship, for fear of people judging you as a failure. Or plunging further into depths of debt, instead of downsizing from a 5-bedroom house to a 3 bed or even renting. But what will people think?

Following these three steps will help you work through the fear of “what people will think”:

1. Put faces on “the people”
Have you ever explored who these people are? You fear judgement and criticism from them, to the extent that it stops you from taking bold steps to live the life you truly desire. They are nameless and faceless but, with so much power over you. Giving faces to “the people” or naming them, really helps to defuse fear which distorts your perception. Practising this exercise helps to move you from perception to reality. And mostly the reality is generally not as scary as you might think. So don’t be afraid to explore.

2. Ask the question “What is the worst that could happen”
When you have completed step 1, on your list of names might be your parents, authority figures, family, naysayers and people you are in competition with. The next step is to explore worst case scenarios. If you took steps to trust and follow your own convictions rather than expectations of others, what is the worst that could happen? You might discover that the people who really matter to you and love you, will be on your side or come round to your choices because they want the best for you. If this is not the case, it then becomes a question of weighing your options. What is most important to you? What can you live with? Is the pain of not being true and authentic to yourself greater or less than the pain of conforming to expectations of others? This is by no means an easy process, but at least you can begin to think about your options or find help to build up the courage to go for what you truly want.

3. Silence the naysayers
We spend a lot of our time agonising over the opinions of people who really do not care about us or have our best interests at heart. Yet they hold so much power over us. If you have ever had to deal with criticism and judgement from people, this can be hard to break. There are those who act like they mean well, but are quick to put you down and criticise every action you take.  The key questions to ask yourself are: Are these people for you? What significance do they hold in your life? How have they contributed to your well-being? Are they part of your support network and would you turn to them for help when you really need it? If not, then there’s your answer. If people are genuinely not for you, they will find any reason to criticise and judge you. Trying to win them over is an endless and thankless task, or at best quite like being on a rollercoaster – up one minute, down the next. So you might as well be criticised for being true to you!

The most authentic and liberating way to live is a life that allows you to make decisions from your own internal convictions, values and judgements and definitely a worthwhile pursuit.