Whose opinion matters?

No matter what your background, we all have that same memory from our childhood.

That time where we were proud of something…until someone made fun of us.

When I was in grade 6, I remember saving my money up so I could buy a pair of pink high-top Converse sneakers. I loved those shoes. But one day a grade 8 boy was walking past my locker (I was in middle school, so we had lockers!) and sneered, “Nice pink shoes!”

I panicked. I thought my shoes were cool…but maybe they weren’t. Within minutes I was sure I had made a huge mistake with my shoes. What was I thinking, buying pink shoes?

I didn’t even know that kid, but he was the reason I cringed every time I put those shoes on (as they had to last me for the entire school year).

Of course, if I could go back in time, with my additional decades of wisdom, I would tilt my head and retort: “Nice mullet.” (it was the 80s).


Who gets to decide?

This past week I listed to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast (episode #208). She was talking with a young woman named Hope, who was struggling with feeling like she wasn’t a real poet.

I love what Elizabeth said to her:

“Who gets to decide if Hope is a poet? Many of us are unconsciously looking for the one person that is going to confirm our darkest fears. So if the answer is not, ‘Hope gets to decide,’ then you might as well say that other person gets to decide.”

This framework applies to so many other situations:

Does the boss that everyone hates get to decide if you are “good with people?”

Does your alpha-male colleague get to decide if you are good at your job?

Does your reading club friend get to decide if you are a good mother?

Does your family member who has always criticized you get to decide if you are making a big mistake?

You have to give yourself the power: YOU get to decide. Because it’s YOUR values that you are measuring against.


What if I’m unsure of my values?

Figuring out what you value in life is an ongoing process.

Even if you think you know it, we evolve as the years pass and our values shift. Think of yourself back in your twenties (or teens) and there will probably be a slight cringe when you remember what you thought was SO important back then.

Martha Beck, on that same podcast episode, encourages us to ask ourselves, “What is my essence leaning towards?”

That’s a great starting point.

If you want to do some in-depth work, I would highly recommend Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map process. Thanks to her insights, I was able to define my values in terms of how I want to feel each day. If you are curious, I was able to narrow it down to the following: magnanimous (generous of spirit, coming from a position of strength), courageous, discerning, dynamic, and inspired.

This is the standard that I hold myself to…and I realize that it is a standard that is unique to me. So I don’t get to impose my values on other people. They get to decide what their own values are.

And what if (when) other people disagree?

In the wise words of Martha Beck, tell them, “I respectfully do not care.”


Should I always ignore the opinions of others?


Not a good idea.

We are built to be connected to a community. Part of this involves listening to what others have to say. But there are two large caveats to this.

First, if you are going to listen to someone, they have to be, “in the arena” with you. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks about those who are with you, shoulder to shoulder, in the arena. Then there are those who are just sitting in the bleachers, shouting out their opinions. If they aren’t fighting the same battle you are fighting, they don’t get a say.

Second, even your tribe – your inner circle, your people – have slightly different values than you. You may crave calm, and they may thrive on chaos. That’s totally fine and you probably live vicariously through them (getting your fill of the chaos without having to live it!). But keep this in mind when they are giving their opinions.


Final thoughts

Know what you value.

Know who your people are, but keep in mind that their values may be slightly different.

Ignore the rest.

Because it’s your life.