If there’s one topic that I’m ridiculously passionate about, it’s the importance of letting go of the need for everyone else’s approval and their opinion of us. Perhaps the reason this topic is so close to my heart is that I spent the first 30-something years of my life completely imprisoned by these two needs:
1. To meet everyone else’s needs of me based on their opinions of who I should be and what I should do, and
2. Seeking peace and self-confidence through their approval.
I cannot say when the switch turned for me (much too late, in my humble opinion). At some point in my 30s, I began to realize that things had to change. I needed to get good with myself. Something was really off…and eventually I found that the “thing” that was off was me.
I spent the majority of my teens, 20s, and early 30s trying to live up to other people’s expectations and opinions of me, society’s prescription for a successful life, and the belief that I should be doing what I saw everyone else doing.
It would have been awesome at an earlier stage to have seen the truth much earlier, but then it wouldn’t be my story.
This is also a story I hear with clients and in many conversations with mothers and parents. We live in a culture inundated with how to be successful, a prescription for a beautiful life (made perfect via media) and of course, plenty of judgment to go along with it.
This is a huge problem for us on so many levels: spiritually, socially, financially, and more.
The standard against which we are judged isn’t always right for us as individuals, and more importantly, for the big plans that God wrote for us individually so that we can Step Into Our Yes. Oftentimes society’s idea of what we NEED to do and what we SHOULD be doing is often a far cry from what we’re CALLED to do. Isn’t it frustrating when there are things or people that place stumbling blocks in our way to prevent this supposed success? Isn’t it disappointing when we try to do what others want and fail frequently?
Here’s the reason why: Other people’s opinions are based on what THEY would do – not what may be right for us. Additionally, they don’t have to live with the outcome – we do.
That said: Whose opinion really matters?
Well, this one is easy to say, but often really hard to do.
First, God’s opinion. We are created uniquely to fulfill a purpose in this life and the more we lean on what our personal call is rather than what others think we need to do, not only will our life be more authentically lived and fulfilling, but we’ll have more peace: the peace that passes understanding.
Second, our own opinions of ourselves. What does our gut say? What do we think of it? How do we measure our opinion of ourselves? Our decisions? Our intuition, our gut – the Holy Spirit – is the best guide – the best opinion for us.
I know. This can be a tough awakening. To realize that the only opinions that matter are God’s, and yours in right relationship with him, well it’s as freeing as it is scary sometimes. It doesn’t always feel comfortable or normal to peacefully set aside what others want from us or need us to do. It actually can feel selfish even when the intent is loving in nature.
Here’s an example. In our work, we all have objectives we’re trying to meet, but oftentimes we have peers or managers that expect us to do things a certain way. This can be tricky, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to us or if we see that there is a better way to serve in our role.
This actually happened to me about a decade ago during a significant strategy meeting in the Fortune 100 where I worked. As I listened to the problem that was being addressed, I had an idea that would simplify things and streamline the entire process. When I went to speak up and share it, some of the senior management were receptive and thankful for my thoughts – they liked the idea and found it fresh.
After the meeting though, my immediate boss called me into an empty conference room, red faced and angry, and went on to chew me out for speaking up and sharing a solution. He asked me to turn down my enthusiasm. (Can you believe that??) He said that I was never to share my ideas with the senior team again unless it was approved first.
I was shocked at first. I was actually pretty angry. Then I was just plain disappointed and knew a few things.
First, he was angry at me for having a fresh idea that wasn’t his. I couldn’t do anything about that. He was also expecting me to turn down my enthusiasm. That was a sign he truly didn’t know me or want me to be myself. He needed me to be someone who I wasn’t and his opinion was that I was too eager and too different to fit in (into the suppressive and negative company culture).
He was right. I was too creative and enthusiastic for his team. And it was OKAY.
I resigned the next week and entered a more entrepreneurial company where my enthusiasm and ideas made a difference.
Imagine if I had let his opinion imprison me.
Imagine if I had yielded to what he needed me to be for him.
I can’t imagine it at all.
We are called to be as God created us to be, free from the expectations and opinions of other humans. This isn’t always easy, in fact it can be the toughest part of our journey, but it’s necessary.
In my case, enthusiasm and passion are innate to who I am. I will NEVER, EVER turn it off. Not. Ever.
At the same time, I would be lying to you if I said that other’s opinions never affect me. Of course they do. Far too often, good intending family and friends are the most influential, and yet what they think is best for us couldn’t be more off course!
We have to cultivate awareness of these opinion obstacles so that we can accept them as data, but ultimately put them in perspective. We can take the messages and opinions and then choose what to do with the information. Sometimes, others’ opinions are good information to help us change for the better. Great! Sometimes, though, it is for someone else’s comfort zone and needs – a need that will take us farther from our YES and ultimately off-brand for who God calls us to be.
This week, try this: Hear all of society’s messages (all types of media: social media, ads, TV, radio, blogs, conversations, etc.) and other people’s opinions that you need to…and then stop to process them.
Ask yourself: Is this good information that will help me serve others better and be who more of who I’m called to be OR is this information that is more for society’s or the other person’s needs of me?
Overall, I do believe that people have good intentions and have your best interest at heart. My hope is that you only spend time with people who are like that!
At the same time, we have a deep sense of spirituality and intuition guided by the Holy Spirit that can help us make the best decisions for ourselves – independent of these external opinions.
The Holy Spirit is the wisest guide you can rely on – every single time – even when the guidance differs from others’ ideas or opinions. The Holy Spirit is your divine compass and it is guiding you where you need to be: for God, for you, and no one else.