A couple of years ago, I was at a party when one of my friends introduced me to a woman she’d known for years. At first the woman was quite friendly as we exchanged the kind of pleasantries that people do when they first meet. But as our conversation continued, she became cool, and then almost hostile, and I had no idea why. Later, I went over our conversation several times in my head, but I still wasn’t sure just exactly what I said that turned her off so completely. I’m not going to lie, the encounter kind of bothered me for several days afterwards.
More recently, I loaned a book by one of my favorite authors to a good friend, thinking she would enjoy it as much as I did. But she gave it back a few weeks later, saying that she found the book so boring that she didn’t even manage to finish it. I was surprised by her response, and I admit, a little bit hurt.
It’s so easy to say that we don’t care what other people think about us, but at times it is so very hard to really and truly not care. Especially when we’re trying our best to be nice, or offering up something that we really value for someone else’s opinion. A friend who taught art classes at a local college once told me the hardest part of her job was getting her students past the paralyzing fear of putting their best work “out there” for other people to see and judge. My guess is almost all creative people can relate to that particular fear.
Personally, I have always struggled with my need for the approval of others. Sadly, social media doesn’t help, with it’s little “like” button that lets us know just exactly how many others approve of whatever we’ve been brave enough to share. And the only downside to blogging is the stat page, which makes it all too easy to judge how well we wrote a particular post by the number of views it received on any given day. So I have to be intentional about trusting my own judgement and not falling into the trap of thinking that whatever (and whomever) happens to be the most popular is automatically the best.
We are all individuals with our own tastes, our own opinions and our own unique way of looking at the world. That means we aren’t always going to get the encouragement and the positive affirmations from other people that we would like, even when we are offering the very best we have to give. And in order to be truly happy, we have to learn to live with that.
I honestly think that the one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is to trust ourselves to know what is, and isn’t, best for us. Because the important thing isn’t how many people “like” us or our work. The important thing is whether or not we like ourselves.