Why what people think of you is not your business

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By Lindy Diamond, Editor Cape Jewish Chronicle

An open letter to my tween

Dear child, I chatted to you the other night and marvelled at how grown-up you have become. I also realised as we talked, that I had so many things I wanted to say, but I also wanted to let you talk uninterrupted. So I made mental notes, and before the opinions of your peers hold far more weight than those of your parents, I thought I would impart the following advice.

We have a right to our opinions. I have likes and dislikes, favourites and not-so-favourites. There are people I like and people I just don’t. My opinions are, to my mind, generally justified, logical and fair. And so, if I can recognise my right to an opinion, I need to recognise other people’s right to theirs.

You don’t have to like everyone, that’s OK. Not everyone will like you either, and this is OK too. What other people think of you is none of your business.
According to award winning writer Mara Shapshay, there are seven signs that show you may care too much about what other people think. I know these resonate with me and hearing your worries tells me they may resonate with you too.

Taking things personally. Reminding myself that how other people behave is based on their own reality and has little to do with me is something I have to do constantly. I agonise over ‘what did she mean by that?’ and ‘why isn’t he more friendly to me?’ I waste time worrying about these interactions instead of focusing on the ones that bring me joy. (From general experience in these cases, it turns out that she meant nothing by it, and he is just quite shy)

Self-sensoring. What if you are too you? Or not enough you? It’s exhausting to worry continuously about whether every word you say is good enough. Just stop. You are good enough. Your personality is pretty much set by now. I’m hoping the toilet humour refines into something a bit more sophisticated, but when all is said and done, this is you, and I like you. Others do too.

Not pursuing your dreams. Your life belongs to you. I’m just here to help while you develop a moral code and grow legs long enough to reach the pedals. And at the end of your life, whenever that time comes, it is your opinion on whether it was kick-ass or not that will matter. If you continue to want to be a spy when you grow up, I will support you. Whenever I ask you what you wish you had more of in your life, you say ‘adventure’. This both thrills and terrifies me in equal measure.

People pleasing. Wanting people to like you is the most exhausting pastime of all. There are so many memes out there about finding your vibe and your tribe, but honestly if you be a mensch I think it will all work out.

‘I got this’ mentality. Think about how good you felt the last time a person you cared about asked you for help? Now return the favour and ask for some help yourself. We all love to help and feel helpful, and yet we don’t want to be a burden and ask for help ourselves. What a paradox. No-one gets that good feeling that comes from feeling needed if we don’t be needy from time-to-time.

Fear of rejection. There are myriad stories of successful people being rejected 101 times before their big break. Maybe you will only need 87 times. Maybe it will never happen for you. But the only way to guarantee that you will never be rejected is if you never try. You’ll need grit and sticktoedness and a determined chin. I have at least provided you with the third.

Approval addiction. Constant approval and validation are addictive. It feels so good to have other people tell you that you are worthy of something. Try not to depend on this. The well of other people’s approval often dries up and you need to rely on your own supply when this happens. Keep a bucket full of your strengths and skills to dowse that niggly voice of doubt when it rises inside you.

And most importantly, dear child, remember that there is only one you in the whole world. Any time you feel small or unimportant think of how much of the universe had to come together in precisely the right amounts to make the wonder that is you. You have a purpose on earth that only you can know. It is a singular gift for me to watch you find it.

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