How I Learned Not To Care What Other People Think
It is often said that one path to happiness is to cease to care about the opinion of others. We are told if we can shed every word, not letting any judgment of anyone else penetrate our hearts and minds, that we will be released from a heavy burden.
I do not claim to be perfect, or the best at anything, or to have found universal harmony or happiness. I have, however, learned to discount 90% of what others think and say about my life and choices. I can attest that it is incredibly freeing and disposes of a lot of useless stress.
The majority of this skill is comprised of what others think about my appearance. I've been on the heavy side my entire life (at 1 month old family, friends, and my doctor thought I was 3 months) and this used to cause me embarrassment and shame. I've never been one to follow fashion, and when that concept was explained to me in my middle teens I began to feel self-conscious of my clothing as well.
The first layer was theatre. There are a lot of unique people in theatre. I was shown that they, almost to a stage-hand, did not need to have the approval of others to be happy. This overwhelming agreement on a subject built on the foundation of my homeschooling upbringing, also a social group comprised of unique individuals unconcerned with the opinion of the world.
The second layer was live action role play. Yet another group of very unique people who could not care less about the opinions of others. The group I joined gathered in a public park every Sunday and sometimes walked or bussed home in their “garb” or costumes. At first I was somewhat reluctant to fully engage in a sport which, at its basic level, is all about running around beating on each other with pool-noodle swords. I loved it though and gradually came to be a fully fledged member.
The third layer was cosplay and geek conventions. Similar to LARPing, cosplaying is dressing up in sometimes very strange and gender-reversing costumes, in public. The key to all three of these, I think, was the fact that you are in a group. Riding a bus in a costume, alone, still requires some courage on my part.
The key was years of exposure therapy and the camaraderie of people who were having the time of their lives. This has allowed me to implement many unusual things in my life that have greatly contributed to my happiness. My hair is a great example. I got some looks the first time I cut my hair an inch short, however the fact that I can spend 30 seconds on it per day and still look exactly the way I want to look is basically a miracle.
All of that being said, those close to me still have the ability to effect me with their opinions. I am not an island ‘gainst whom no entreaties may change. I am lucky enough to have an intimate circle comprised of those who truly want what is best for me and recognize that I am the best judge of that. I genuinely have no idea what I would be able to do if someone I loved was dead set against a decision I felt I needed to make.
To anyone searching for how to care less about the opinions of others, my advice is simple: act in a play, cosplay at a con, and join your nearest LARP group.