“What Will People Think?”: Change the Question
Over the years, I have had hundreds of soul-searching conversations with people looking to change something about their current life situations.
Throughout these conversations with totally different individuals experiencing totally different circumstances, I have noticed a phrase that comes up over and over again as almost a mantra when we talk about changing circumstances or behavior.
“What will people think?”
Let’s take the woman who was seriously burnt out in her current job, hated her line of work, and was having serious health problems as a result of the stress that was literally eating away at her. She wanted to change careers entirely and become a nutritionist and fitness trainer. What was keeping her from moving forward? “But what will people think…?” She was worried that “people” would not think as highly of her if she didn’t hold the esteemed professional position and title she currently held—or didn’t make the type of money she was currently making.
Let’s move to the example of the man who was so burnt out from his daily grind that he wanted to be closer to nature to “feel alive” (his words) more of the time.
He and his wife both felt the same way—so were thinking about selling their house in the suburbs, downsizing significantly, and renting a house a few blocks from the beach. They could keep their current jobs and the commute would be better. But more important—they could enjoy long walks on the beach each day—which was a form of meditation for both of them. This meant they would have to rent the new place since they couldn’t afford the real estate prices near the beach. His hesitation was the same question…“What will people think?”
He was worried that a smaller, modest rental condo would not be as impressive to others as his current large home in the suburbs. That his “status” would be diminished in their eyes…
This “status” storyline we worry about starts early.
Am I impressive to others?
Do they approve of my stature?
Translation: Am I enough?
I remember the start of my “script” when I was a senior in high school living in Athens, Greece. My parents, living on a modest income, had bought me a new watch for my birthday, which I picked out and loved. It had a square face and a mock snakeskin gray band. I thought it was beautiful…until my status scripts started.
I had gone to a dinner with my then boyfriend, to which several of his sister’s friends were invited. Most of them were from pretty wealthy families, although at that time in my life I didn’t really see that distinction.
A girl I had never met before sat next to me and complimented me on my “beautiful watch”. I smiled and was flattered by the compliment—until the next question burst my approval bubble.
“What brand is it?”she asked me.
I looked down and read the letters on the face.
“Timex,” I smiled, as if the information would help her get one herself.
“Ohhhhh…”, she said with an air of disgust. “I see…I thought it was a Cartier”. And with that she turned and started talking to the person next to her.
There it was. My initiation into the “what will people think?” storyline began back then at 17. And it took me quite awhile to change that story from a scripted one written by “people”—to a new one that is self-authored by yours truly.
How can we change the script?
A place to start is instead of asking, “what will people think”… how about replacing that question with these two questions instead:
What do YOU want?
And more important…
What do YOU think?
Letting go of the status scripts written for you by others will allow you to author of your own life’s story line.
Isn’t it time to change the question?
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