“As a perfectionist, I care what people think of my work and of my character. I see the flaws in being a perfectionist, and yet I want to be sure everyone knows how much “perfect” matters to me. If put something out there that is less than perfect or someone reacts in a way I don’t like, I worry that they will think I don’t care or don’t try. How do you overcome that?”
The woman who asked me this is beautiful, stylish and confident with a big dream. Her transformational message could make huge shifts in our culture. She’s experienced deep pain and disappointment yet also success in her mission. What I’ve seen of her work she presents with the professionalism her field demands. Her energy reveals passion for her message with an authenticity that shows she understands the struggles her audience is experiencing. Yet much of her mental energy, emotions and time are spent on the question she voiced.
She’s not alone in this.
Fear and self-doubt cause us to spin our wheels and undermine our calling.
Brene Brown said it this way: “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shot-gun, and fear is the backseat driver.”
Whether you’re getting brave and stepping out into a new direction or you know exactly where you’re headed, someone’s going to have an opinion. Whatever message, art or service you create, someone’s going to have a comment. Maybe they’ll say it aloud. Or maybe the opinion is an echo ricocheting in your mind from something someone said years ago.
So how do you stop worrying about what others think of you and what you create so you can show up freely?
Perspective matters to a point. Without listening to comments on what you write or propose, you won’t know how much you’re resonating with the language and needs of whom you’re meant to serve. So to what extent do you allow other voices to influence your direction, approach and presence?
When it’s time to navigate the tension between humbly seeking and accepting input and confidently deciding your path regardless of others’ opinions, how do you find the peace to make the transition?
After my perfectionism and people-pleasing led to burnout, my mission to help people connect with their purpose collided with my fear of confrontation. I knew I had to figure out this quandary.
Here are 14 lessons I’ve learned along my journey. My hope is one or more of them inspire you to release your fear of what others think to step deeper into your creating and calling:
1 Focus on what matters most.
If pleasing or rescuing everyone is the rudder in your ship, it will steer you everywhere. Second-guessing yourself and your direction, you’ll either capsize your boat, or oversteer and end up on a trajectory that leads you off-purpose.
Creating a filter based on what truly matters to you helps you connect and sift through off-hand comments and different perspectives. It also helps you detour around resentment and avoid those snarky comments that slip out.
When I didn’t have a filter like this in my life, I got burned out by a calendar of activities and inner expectations. “Shoulds” dictated my choices but they didn’t light me up. I made decisions under the guise of humbly accepting advice or being a team player, but ended up feeling drained and guilty with the realization that I had compromised my values.
It’s worth it to do the courageous deep work of figuring out your purpose and what truly matters to you.
To whom do you really want to be a hero/heroine? What’s the story of which you’ll be a part? What’s your superpower? And what’s your kryptonite?
2 Redefine perfection
Striving for perfection can never be a goal in itself because perfection means you’ve arrived. It’s complete. It’s reaching the epitome of potential. But as humans, we thrive most when we’re growing. Growth means change. New life means letting go of who and what you were before to become the next version of you.
The day I realized I hated change because it “wrecked” my mission for perfection was a sobering one.
As an employee of an ever-shifting environment and fast growth, I felt resistant to change and exasperated with leadership when they would initiate change. I saw change as a detour from perfection for which I had been working my tail off. When I figured out how to appreciate the journey rather than being so fixed on a concrete destination, I began to ask different questions and see it from other points of view.
It’s not about resolving the pressures and expectations of the wrong way, right way or even the best way. When perfection is seen in moments rather than the destination, you can appreciate your growth in the transition and see new opportunities. It takes adjustment and a fresh outlook (and maybe a little tantrum stomping behind closed doors), but you’ll experience the wonder that never would have entered your original sense of perfection.
3 Appreciate who you are and reconnect with your worth
When someone offers an opinion that critiques a decision we’ve made or devalues something we just released into the world, that devastation feels defeating. The more we’ve attached meaning and our identity to this, the more it’s going to emotionally affect us and drive us in a downward spiral.
You’ll always have areas of yourself to improve, learn and release. You don’t need anyone to tell you this. When you made that last decision, you had a good reason for it at the time — even if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. When you created that work of art and poured your soul into it, you did your best, and you want someone to see it for what you intended. Instead, they’re seeing it through their own needs and filters.
That’s why your value and identity has to be rooted in more than someone else’s opinion. You were designed with a purpose. The more you genuinely like yourself, lean into the best version of you and accept who you aren’t, the more you express your worth to yourself and to those around you. It’ll shine in how you respond in those moments — not just in what you create.
4 Grow confidence: stand up and out in what you love, value and believe
Have you every had someone tell you “be confident” when that’s the last thing you feel? Even worse is when someone tells you that when you thought you had been confident.
So I’m not just going to tell you to just “be confident”. But confidence does have a lot to do with what you let undermine your focus and mindset.
Research shows that there’s a correlation between acting confident and gaining more confidence. Changing your physical state and exchanging negative thoughts for grateful ones can activate seeds of confidence that you can nurture. So if you can become a gardener of your confidence, the fruit will show up in your decision-making and how you communicate your message.
So strike a power pose. Unplug and disappear on a long hike. Start weight-lifting. Learn a specific skill like public speaking. Hire someone to cover your weak zones. Get a study partner. Wake up half an hour before your kids get up for grounding time. Find someone who needs what you have to share.
This is your dance and you get to choreograph it. When you find your way if confidently being the best you, it’s a beautiful dance, whether others disagree, gripe with envy or marvel with inspiration.
5 Identify, reposition or deactivate your reaction triggers
How do you react when someone disagrees with your message?
I used to cry.
I didn’t have a choice; my body just did it. Heat would crawl up my face; anxiety would rise into my throat. Anger or defensiveness could ward it off a few moments, but then I’d wilt into a blubbery mess. And I hated it.
What’s your automatic response? Retaliate? Defend yourself? Hide? Scramble to please them? Or do get on your feet and show them up?
How you react sets you on a course that could contradict your values and sap your energy from what truly matters to you. For me, it began undermining any influence it might have my calling. The only way I could change was to see it as a skill I could develop instead of a reaction that defined me. I had to take apart my reactions piece by piece to figure out what was going on before I could create new responses.
Tune into your patterns. Dig into why you respond the way you do so that you can rise above the feelings and urges and be the kind of person you’d admire.
6 Assess the cost of figuring it out alone and receive support and love
Maybe you’re at your best when you are creating content that inspires people or offering services that help people solve a problem.
But if you have trouble accepting help for yourself, I have bad news for you! The fear behind worrying what others think sparks self-judgment. Perfectionism and pride prevent us from accepting help because we feel shame or self-condemnation. Somehow we acquired the expectation that we were supposed to be able to nail it on our own. According to shame, courage and vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown, “When you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment.”
Your very heart to help others through your strengths, message and gifts is compromised. Becoming an authentic inspiration means accepting help.
7 Own your zone
Comparison and jealousy create a critical lens on what we’re called to do. They temp us to add more on our plate, get in bed with more debt, and compromise our focus. It’s a contagious path, inviting more to-do lists, hyped adrenaline and inevitably a crash. When I face Comparison and Jealousy, and give them their voice, they reveal my fear of being left behind, of being consequential and invisible.
So I bring it to God, resigned. What do you want me to do with this? I have more ideas than time or skill to do them.
And he answers, “That’s their story — and you’re only seeing a part of it. You’re creating your story. Live it well, and it will inspire others to live theirs well instead of live in comparison.”
And along the way I find I love my story with all its inadequacies and quirks. I own what I can change and surrender what I can’t yet. I let go of what isn’t meant to be done yet, and dive into a couple simple focuses of here and now.
That’s my story. You have your zone of genius to own, your story to live. The sooner you love it and release all the others, the more energy and space you’ll have to live it well.
8 Find a safe zone for constructive feedback
“This is one of the marks of a truly safe person: they are confrontable.”― Henry Cloud,
What if the critics are right? What it their perspective is right? It might be tough to admit, but to thrive and grow, you’re going to need a safe way to converse face to face with the truth. That’s going to start with being honest with yourself. What are your excuses really about? What’s the gap between who you are and who you want to be… and why is the gap there?
We like the idea of knowing the truth and figuring out a helpful way to apply it. But we trust and accept it easiest from people who understand our heart beyond what we say or do. They are people who don’t see us as we were or only in the context they’ve gotten to know us. They see us through our dreams and what it will take to shift deeper into our potential. If it's selfless, their criticism might make you squirm at the time, but you’ll be better for it.
9 Make curiosity your friend
If you could hone one skill that would help you be more open-minded and less guarded, would you do it? For me, that skill and art was curiosity. When you find yourself being judgmental (often a deflection off your own less-than virtues), curiosity opens the door to find out what another’s opinion is really about. It helps you ask better questions, which return surprising answers. When you trip over an unexpected assumptions, it helps you side-step awkward foot-in-the-mouth moments.
At first, I thought I needed to be confident to handle curiosity in my conversations that challenged my choices. Instead, mastering the art of curiosity has helped me be more like the kind of person I want to be. Relaxed and approachable. Someone who stands her ground while listening and discovering instead of defending and convincing. Someone who has the courage to uncover the root instead of dealing with symptoms and excuses. Curiosity is your friend when grappling with what others think.
10 Know who you are meant to serve and who gets your time and attention at what time
During a couple of years when I was single, I went through a season of figuring what boundaries needed to look like in my life. Between work, groups, friendships, projects, my spiritual life and the solitude I needed, I felt overwhelmed, and eventually resentful, by everything tugging on my time.
I defined what balance looked like in my life and it mostly had to do with who I gave my time and attention. In order to feel refreshed, generous and happy each week, I allocated segments of my calendar for each category. Once I identified who fit in each category, figured out the rhythm that worked for me and how to set boundaries. Burnout was the consequential reminder that I couldn’t please everyone, and prioritizing spaces in my calendar was the tool to keep that reality in check.
11 Be a spring not a cesspool
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
Your thoughts determine your direction and issues. If you nurture thoughts and feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, lack of value and competition, that’s what will ooze from you. For Snow White’s stepmother, it saturated the questions she asked of her mirror and how she treated others. You’ll become a cesspool of insecurity, jealousy, offense and never-good-enoughness. But when you saturate your life with thoughts of grace, acceptance, belonging, connection, gratitude, appreciation for the journey, you sow seeds that will blossom and bear the fruit you desire. Ultimately, that’s what people will appreciate about you, whatever choices you make.
12 Prepare your responses
If you’re a thinker or someone who needs time to process what to say, it can be intimidating to deal with others’ opinions about your dream. One year, my direct report shared a strategy he learned. He needed time to process requests or information before responding, so he prepared phrases he could pull out in those situations. That was a liberating idea for me. Here are a few lines to start you off:
“I share a different opinion than that. If you are truly interested in a conversation about this, let’s set up a better time to chat.” (When you’re not prepared for a conversation that should probably happen.)
“That’s an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.” (When you’re not interested in discussing unhelpful opinions.
“That’s a different way of looking at it. How is it that you see it that way?” or “Interesting. How is that perspective serving you?” (When the person with the opinion is way off base and you’re not inclined to waste energy defending your case.)
13 Context matters. Remember that people care less than you think
Creating quality that enhances your message, your brand, your engagement and approachability in your calling is one thing. And you need to listen and ask questions to make sure you’re staying relevant and profitable.
But there’s a huge difference between spending endless hours on details that will be passing thoughts versus matters that will be distractions or decision-makers for people. This is why knowing who is most important to you and what matters to them is crucial.
For example, my husband always gives me heck if we leave the house and he realizes some of his hair is out of place. “Why didn’t you fix it?” I usually shrug — and only notice when he says something, because I see him in the context of who he is. A few hairs out of place doesn’t reflect on who he is, how people will perceive or judge him. If anyone notices, they probably won’t think twice about it.
But say you’re about to do a Facebook live. Your table is your office, and your kitchen is your background. Your day didn’t go as well as planned, in the process your toddler decided “reorganize” your shelves, the cereal was left out; dirty dishes scatter the counter. You have ten minutes to do your thing, so it’s either clean up or do the Live before your next appointment.
What to do? If your audience is other moms, they probably won’t think twice about the mess. In fact, they’ll probably feel a little relieved and appreciative of the realness. However, if you’re a professional organizer and home stager, and you’re training an audience who are potential clients, they may see these details differently. Context is everything.
14 View opinions as fluid rather than solid
The seasons, events, people, crises and grace we experience in life have a way of shaping us. Our opinions and perspectives can rise as reactions, manifestos or soapboxes. However, in the big picture, they also shift with these experiences and how we internalize them.
When my husband or a colleague says something to me that I disagree with or that makes me feel offended or misunderstood, I take a few days to process it. If some rants on my choices because change has inconvenienced them or sparked jealousy, I can take it on or let it go. If I’m insecure, it seeps into my identity. If I’m humble, I weigh it against the truth I know, what I believe and what I stand for in this season of my life.
You can see their opinion as separate from the person who offered it because they are on a journey too, and something might shift in their life that alters their perspective.
Who knows? Maybe graciously standing your ground might inspire their own journey.
May you know you are loved and valued— and may that clarity shine the best of who you are.
May your courage share your gifts with the world and start a ripple effect hope and transformation.
If you need a boost in bravery in your dream to impact others with your gifts, sign up for my 10 Days to Brave Action email mini-course. It’s designed to help you clear space in your mind, calendar and rhythms to show up in a bigger way.