For much of my life, even until now, I have worried far too much about what others think of me. I’m only realizing now just how poisonous to my soul that behavior truly is.
It’s natural to deny it. The pride in me convinces myself and others that I couldn’t care less what others think of me. We treat it as a self-confidence issue, a self-esteem issue, and a weakness.
At times, after internally stressing and struggling over what another person might be thinking about me, I can recall telling myself… “Who cares what anyone thinks of you Greg?” It was a sort of psychological coping mechanism for convincing myself not to care what someone might think of me. But there was no fooling my subconscious. I could tell myself not to care, and heck, I could even tell myself that I don’t care… but deep down, I cared.
Daily, I catch myself worrying, analyzing, and speculating about what others might be thinking about me for any given reason. I tell you… it is poison! Anxious, strenuous, debilitating poison.
You and I are worrying about something that we can almost never control. No matter what we do, people are going to think what they are going to think. They’ll interpret your looks, your facial expressions, your tone, your actions, the way you walk, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the friends you have, the business you work for, the church you go to, the spouse you have, the children you raised, the accomplishments you’ve made, the failures you’ve endured, the place you were born, and the mode with which you eventually die. All of it will be interpreted differently by people from all walks of life. One person may really like you for no reason at all and another person may really hate you for no reason at all. And guess what!? There is literally nothing you or I can do about it. People are going to think what they’re going to think.
The only thing we can do is try to be our best selves and let others think what they may. But… when we’re being our best self, we need to be our best self for ourselves and not because we want others to be impressed by our best self.
I can recall a time in my life when I was about 25 years old teaching a Sunday School class in a new area that my wife and I moved into. There was a man in that class whom I later became good friends with who in a fit of honesty decided to tell me what he originally thought of me when he first saw me. He said, “I really didn’t like you when I first saw you. It wasn’t anything you said or did… I just didn’t like the way you looked. You reminded me of someone who I didn’t like from my past and so it made me not like you either.” I wasn’t sure how to reply to that, so I smiled and just said… “Well… thanks for letting me know.” The only reason this man felt comfortable telling me this was because we had become such good friends over time. But I’ve wondered since then how many other people there are out there that feel the same way about me.
Using the opinions of others as the measuring stick of our worth is a losing battle. I truly believe that this one single concept is responsible for the great majority of perpetual sadness in the world.
The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that it is impossible to please everyone and I’ve struggled with that reality. I’ve tried to change it and control it. If I found out that someone didn’t like me, then I went to great lengths to find out why this or that person didn’t like me. I wanted to know what I did, what I said, or what the cause was for that person not to like me. “If they only got to know me better they wouldn’t feel that way,” I would think to myself. “If only I could prove to them… then surely they would like me and we would be great friends.” But that’s just not the way it works. And trying to prove yourself to everyone that crosses your path can be an endless, exhausting, futile, and misdirected road to go down.
One of the most important things you can do in your life is to overcome the tendency to please everyone or be liked by all. It just will never happen. There are some people with personalities that are liked by a lot of people, but even they will have people who don’t like them. For whatever reason, someone, somewhere… no matter what you do… or what you say… will take issue with you. It’s on us to change the way we think of ourselves and not concern ourselves with the thoughts of others.
The apostle Paul warned of trying to be liked by everyone. He called people who were striving for the adoration of others, “men-pleasers.” Paul learned later in life that if he was to accomplish his foreordained purpose in life and accomplish his most important goals… that it would mean being hated by a great majority of the people he came in contact with. If he would have tried to assimilate with the people he came in contact with, he would have just blended in and lived a much quieter life. A man of means and stature as both a Jewish and Roman citizen, he could have aimed for a more political approach to his relationships. But Paul took a bold stance on important issues and became one of the most hated figures in Rome at the time. He learned that he had only one being to please and that was God. If others chaffed at his words or scoffed at his presence, it didn’t matter. He knew who he was and knew where he was going. The adoration of his peers was nothing to him.
Jesus Christ taught that “the kingdom of God is within you.” He knew that deep inside we would know if we were living a lie, putting up a facade, or living for the attention and recognition of others. He knew that if we were true to ourselves, and not to the opinions of others, that we would find peace on this earth. He knew that we could never please God if we were disgusted with the man or woman looking back at us in the mirror. Constantly adjusting who you are in order to get people to like you is like living in a prison.
To put it poetically, Dale Wimbrow once wrote in his poem, The Man In The Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
You will never be able to please everyone. But if you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you’ve done your best to do what’s right despite what anyone says about you, then you will have accomplished something that few individuals have ever been able to accomplish on this earth.