I Care What You Think (and That's Not Good)

I'm a people-pleaser. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that the fear of disappointing someone is the most common excuse I have for not doing something.

What will they say? How will they feel? I even sometimes have the gall to think that my doing or not doing something will have a negative impact on their entire life.

It's easy to laugh now and say "get over it, Torres," but it's been a real issue in the past several years.

I blame school.

Okay, so for as much as I totally love school (and wish I was joining the hoardes of back-to-schoolers this month), I do think there was one major drawback.

I liked learning, but I loved getting good grades. I loved being well-behaved and getting those little gold stars on my tests. I could memorize, recite and regurgitate information like the best of them, and I was rewarded with praise and attention because of it.

Seth Godin has an amazing example of this in his book Linchpin, using the game Candyland as the scapegoat:

Author Steven Johnson hates the board game Candyland and all board games like it. I hate them even more than he does.

‘I realize that games of pure chance have a long history, but that doesn’t make them any less moronic,’ he writes. Here’s how Candyland is played: You pick a card and do what it says. Repeat.

This is early training in agenda following. Indoctrination in obedience. We teach kids that the best way to win is to mindlessly pick cards, follow instructions, and wait for it all to turn out okay.

Sheesh. What a disaster.
— Seth Godin, Linchpin

Obviously, I'm glad that I was surrounded by positive people, but being encouraged to follow the rules and do what people asked of me is now deeply ingrained in my behavior. There are blog posts I won't write, stories I won't share, and opportunities I won't take because I'm too afraid of letting someone down.

You know, like coming home with a C on a report card. THE HORROR.

It's time to care what I think

I read a novel where the main character says that after 25 years old, you can no longer blame your parents (or in my case, childhood) for aspects of life that aren't going well. I love that idea.

So at 26, I think it's fair enough to force myself into putting my own feelings over those of others when it comes to making life decisions. This blog is, in a sense, an effort to do just that. I was writing about minimalism for so long that I worried I would upset long-time readers by veering away from that label.

Guess what? I still struggle with that worry every day. But I haven't let it stop me from posting regularly, and I feel pretty effing good about that.

...and what about when people are just confused?

I studied Creative Writing in college, and when I told certain family and friends, I got this answer: "oh great, so you'll be an English teacher!"

When I inevitably told them I wasn't looking to teach, it was a confusing concept. Certainly I didn't want to do something "abnormal" like...being a writer.

If I had let their confusion box me into a more straightforward profession, I wouldn't be writing to you today from my dining table in Los Angeles. And I'm still just as confused as they were when they found out I didn't want to be a teacher.

I often think, what the heck am I even doing?

So I've been reflecting on something today. The people that are genuinely there for you in your life will show up and support you, and someday they may even understand your choices. But that's not the point. The point is that at the end of your life it is you, and only you, that needs to feel good about the path you've followed.

And it's confusing, and it's terrifying. But shouldn't it be?

Stay the course on your own path despite what others think, not because they will understand in time, but because you will understand in time.