I was having breakfast with my niece a couple of weeks ago and she told me how much her 6-year-old son hates school. She describes it as being so bad that she has to go to class with him. Gavin started Kindergarten late because he suffered from an enlarged heart when he was 2. We almost lost him and if it wasn’t for answered prayers and the fantastic staff at Valley Children’s Hospital, we would have. Gavin was in a coma for a period of time and during his illness, he had lost oxygen to his brain and had turned blue before paramedics arrived. We do not know the extent of damage that was done to his brain during this period of time but we have come to understand that he is sensitive to stimulus and he cannot handle to much at once. However, because he functions as almost a normal kid, the teachers at his school thought he was just acting up and would make an example out of him in class. As a result of his teachers behavior, Gavin, at 6 years old, quickly realized he was different and now hates to go to class. The other day he came over to visit with me. As I was holding him, I asked him how school was that day. He responded with, “I don’t know” so I asked him, did you have fun at school today? At which he replied, “I don’t want to talk about it.” This broke my heart. The reason it broke my heart is because I could relate to how this little guy was feeling.
I grew up not fitting in and feeling like a spectacle of weirdness more than the girl that I was. I was raised to wear dresses everyday and although I can look back know and appreciate all the nice dresses I had, at the time, being so different in my appearance drew a lot of unwanted attention and I felt like an outcast. By the time I was able to make my own decisions, I was doing everything I could to “fit in” and be accepted. This led me down a rabbit hole that changed the course of my life.
Needing approval from others is innate in all of us. I suppose it is because we are all connected in one form or another and our soul, on some subconscious level, understands this. However, this need to be accepted, to have approval from our peers or our loved ones is often a negative force that creates far more harm than it does good.
In my own life, I had created a persona that would deflect criticism. I tried to have the perfect body, the right car, the right clothes, the right amount of money and the right friends. I worked hard to become the woman I wanted to be. I thought that if I was successful, then others would admire me instead of criticize me. Actually, I think it worked to a degree, except I was living behind a mask and had built huge walls to keep people out. I was a failure at commitment. I didn’t commit to friends, to men, to homes, to family, I didn’t even commit to what city I was going to live in. I was a vagabond. Running from anything that could reject me.
I am writing about this because I think many people suffer from caring too much about what others think and my question is, who are these people and why does it matter what they think?
I can’t tell you when it happened but somewhere in the last several years, I got free. I stopped putting other’s opinions about me above my own opinions about myself. I think I became more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing people, but it was an evolutionary process. I have spent a lot of time lately listening to Dr. Breńe Brown. I mentioned her work in my last column. She has spent her life studying vulnerability. One of her favorite quotes is from a speech given by Theadore Roosevelt it goes like this:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again. Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”
I love this so much because it paints a picture of the bloody and messy reality of what overcoming a struggle requires. It also reveals how unimportant the opinions of the spectator are. If your critics are not in the arena with you, they’re opinion should not matter. Living by this quote isn’t easy and for my 6 year-old nephew, it is impossible because he doesn’t understand. However, if you are reading this column then you have the ability to overcome what other’s think of you. Here is the first step. Bréne Brown suggests that you do the following.
1 1. Cut a one-inch square of paper.
2. Write the names of people whose opinion you value.
3. Place that piece of paper in your wallet.
4. Next time you are criticized or judged, pull out the piece of paper and see if that person’s name is on the square.
If it is, then take a look at your part. If it isn’t, then disregard the criticism. It doesn’t matter.
I hope this helps someone reading this today. Life is hard enough without worrying about what everyone thinks of us. Look around and ask yourself, who is in the arena with you!