How many times have you wanted to say or do something but didn’t because of what people might think of you? Today, I would like to talk about how the fear of other people’s opinions (FOPO) is harming your potential and how you should actually deal with.
If you have ever lied about an odd hobby, a funny quirk you have, or maybe even your height, then this article is for you, especially if the reason you decided to lie about the aforementioned examples is because you were afraid of being embarrassed. In a nutshell, embarrassment comes from being overly concerned with how the world perceives us. Whether this relates to our personal hobbies, our professional career or our most awkward slip-ups, it doesn’t really matter, the process works the same way: we tuck away all those things we don’t want other people to see and highlight the remaining to cover them up as much as possible.
But what if I told you that there is another mindset? What if I told that conforming is NOT the optimum solution to dealing with FOPO? Personally, I believe that there is a more empowering mindset, and it is that of figuring out whether or not you are focusing on your own values. For instance, try to think of anything that you care about and ask yourself why you care about it so much. What are the underlying emotions that you associate with the situation, hobby or object in question? The reason I ask this is because I believe that figuring out why you stand for something is as important as knowing what you stand for, because it puts you in a better position to represent it and defend it.
It all comes down to knowing thyself. By bringing more awareness to what you value and why you value it so much, you will be much less concerned about what other people think of you. For instance, you might have considered asking someone out on a date, but didn’t because of the potential public rejection. But if you value courage and initiative and you decide to live up to that, then the ‘risk’ of embarrassing yourself becomes irrelevant. See where I’m getting at?
Own up is grown up
Besides cultivating self-awareness, owning who you are is the next step in dealing with FOPO. Yes, even the most unshakable and confident people mess up from time to time. And it’s not pleasant. But the main difference between them and you is that they don’t allow themselves to go through the punishment twice. They simply take ownership of their mistakes, adjust the sails, and move on. After all, why focus on something that you can’t control anyways?
The same goes for your physical appearance. Maybe you have certain things that you are not particularly fond of, like your height or age, but instead of trying to live up to a value you can’t control, it would be far more productive to simply own up to who you are. I can almost guarantee that you will feel immediate relief. That being said, I have to point out that owning up to who you are does NOT mean relinquishing self-improvement on behalf of self-acceptance. Some instances are worth feeling embarrassed about since they are the painful reminders that we are not living up to our own standards. In this case, the negative emotion of embarassment is actually positive, given that it could serve as a catalyst to get your ass back on track (pardon my French).
The bell curve of opinions
I recently stumbled upon one of my all-time favorite quotes, which went along the lines of: “No masterpiece was ever made with the intention of fitting in.” I like this one in particular because of the way it explains how ‘greatness’ and ‘fitting in’ do not at all go hand in hand. Coincidentally, that quote happens to be one of my own works (what are the odds?!). I am not saying this to come across as arrogant or Mr. Know It All. Quite to the contrary, growing up as a child I struggled plenty with FOPO, probably more than anyone else around me. I guess that’s also the reason why I can relate to this quote so much in the first place.
But as the years passed by, this is what I have come to learn: it doesn’t matter what you do, for some people it will never be good enough. With more than seven billion of us roaming around, it is just impossible to please everyone, so why even bother? Therefore, instead of trying to figure out how you could fit in, start thinking about how you can stand out, and accept that the more you stand out, the more people will form an opinion about you. It’s inevitable.
A nice way to illustrate this is by picturing a bell curve in which the mathematical distribution is your social status in society. For the sake of the argument, let us also assume for a moment that the lower you are on the social ladder, the fewer the people that will know of your existence. Put differently, the better you perform in society, the further your social reach, which is not per se to state that your circle has become bigger, but just that more people know ‘who you are’. With this in mind, statistically it would be safe to assume that the higher the number of people who know who you are, the higher the number of opinions about you and the higher the likelihood of those opinions being divided between two categories, namely positive and negative.
Obviously, this example excludes any form of morality or universal values. I think we can all agree that people who harm innocent fluffy animals will probably lean slightly more towards the negative side of the curve. Having said that, I think you can see how operating at the edge of your capacity will inevitably leave you stepping on a few people’s toes.
Nothing to lose
Whether you realize it or not, an opinion is nothing more than someone else making assumptions without having the full context. Yet, we allow it to dictate our lives a great deal. How the hell does that even make sense?! Yes, there used to be a time when valuing the opinion of other members of the tribe might have served a greater purpose – maybe even survival – but those primal times have long gone. Fearing of losing face or being ridiculed is no longer beneficial to us, so, rather than pleasing everyone else, just focus on doing what’s right for you.
I genuinely believe that when it comes to what other people may think of you (because, let’s be honest, most of the times we can’t even tell for sure), you have nothing to lose. That is not to say that you should ignore every form of feedback or constructive criticism. If everyone keeps telling you that your behavior could use some adjustments, you might actually want to consider it and do the inner work. After all, you may not want to care about opinions, but you definitely do want to care about your reputation!
I know this may sound contradictory, but there is a subtle difference. Reputation takes into account the aforementioned statement about morality and universal values. Putting these in the equation, you can see how such morals and values can matter a great deal in your attempts to get ahead in life. So, before you turn all high and mighty in your new endeavors to get rid of your FOPO, you might want to recalibrate your moral compass….
I hope that after reading this article you’ve come to gain a better understanding of how to deal with FOPO. As human beings, our need for social approval is all but natural, but our obsession with it is not, and it should definitely not function as the main proxy of our emotional state of mind. Knowing what you stand for and subsequently why you stand for it will help you remarkably in taking a firm stance against FOPO. Remember, being disliked by others is okay, being disliked by yourself to please others is not. Just think about that next time you want to let an outer opinion harm your inner potential….