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What Others Think of You Doesn’t Matter; Until It Does

Somewhere out there in the world is a quote, which has been attributed to many people in various forms, but here’s the one I came across most recently, and which I rather like:  “The opinion that other people have of you is their problem, not yours” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. 

When I first heard this a variation on this wisdom I know it resonated powerfully.  There was such freedom,  liberation and a confirmation of sorts in the idea that the opinions held by others were not as important as my own opinion of myself.  I can totally get behind the wisdom of that, you know? 

Since then, I’ve come to believe that the quote needs to be presented with a cautionary caveat; because sometimes, the opinions of other people do matter.  Here’s what I mean. 

As an individual out there in the world who’s trying to do something, accomplish something, create something – whatever that “something” might be – your reputation is important.  And when it comes right down to it, your reputation is nothing more or less than the sum total of what others think of you.

If a majority of people hold a similar opinion, and that opinion flies in the face of how you’d like to be experienced, that could be problematic.  There will be a gap between who you say you are and how you say you want to be experienced, and what’s actually the prevailing experience of you. 

If you go around in the world believing that the opinions of others are irrelevant, then you run the risk of being like an ostrich with your head in the sand, unaware of the reputation you’ve got in the community or, perhaps more accurately, completely aware of your reputation but unaware of the effect of that on the work you’re striving to do. 

This lack of awareness can result in your desired impact being less than it could be.  Is that what you want? I’m guessing not.

In order to circumvent this process, the best way to be with the opinions of others is to truly know what matters to you, what you’re striving to create, the impact you’re working to have.  Once you know this, you can show up with the express intent of bringing all of this to life.  And, if or when it comes to your attention that somebody’s opinion of you is less than desirable, or when those opinions fly in the face of who you’re trying to be, you can evaluate and determine how to move forward in a way that serves your vision. 

I’m not suggesting that you need to take on the judgments of others, the insecurities of others, or even the opinions of others.  Knowing how those opinions line up or deviate from your own opinion of yourself, however, is important.  When you can confidently articulate who you are and how you want to be experienced, you can address any deviations with the power of this confidence.  You can question another’s opinion of you, without giving it validation.  You can attempt to set the record straight, if it matters to you.  And if it doesn’t, you can move on; but you’ll move on with integrity and wisdom, rather than with an attitude of “your problem, not mine.”

Bottom-line:  pretending that the opinions of others are irrelevant to you is naïve.  On the flip side, giving complete credence to the opinions of others is equally futile.  No matter who you are or what you’re up to in the world, your job is to know who you are and what you’re about, know how you want to bring these pieces of you to life in the world and the impact you want to have, then pay attention to the feedback you get and tweak as necessary.  What others think of you does matter; it has to line up with who you are at your core.  When your reputation matches your character, you’re able to lead with true integrity.

Tracy Harvie