I have told myself for many years a lie that it has always been easy for me to believe. It was also not difficult to convince others that it was true. I sold it to everyone that I didn't care about others' opinions about me. It made me a little eccentric about some things. I enjoyed it, especially when the feature was not necessarily popular.
If you know me at least a little, you might find it a surprise to read the text title and previous paragraph, but I believe I am writing the truth. Facing this has helped me move on, and maybe publishing it is another step forward.
Evidence that I didn't care
I've always had a reputation for being odd in some opinions. Most people who don't have a car but start working with a salary that allows them to buy one, do buy? I'll stick with the bus, subway, or taxi - there was no Uber back then, and the latter was what people found most strange. Do I buy clothes at the market and do you think I'm cheap? I tell everyone about it every time I buy a new piece. Few expected me to quit my job? Yeah, I did.
Even with several friends using the brand new and famous smartphone, I never had this one. I remember the first time I had the opportunity to travel abroad, where Brazilians usually buy a lot. I came back with six pairs of white socks, three white shirts, and a t-shirt that I got because I paid $10 in a private parking lot in an Outlet.
Even traveling abroad was a curious process. I first traveled by plane with 19 years. The detail is that I had never traveled by bus either. And by car, with family, three times and before nine years old. I started to wander around more after I was 25 years old. When my work allowed me, that's when I decided that even having the resources to go abroad, I wanted to get to know Brazil first. Unlike almost everyone who worked with me, I might say.
And why didn't I care?
The main reason I started to care less about people's opinions was a survival instinct and a logic I made up in my crazy mind. I realized early in my adult life that others' views regarding myself had little to do with me.
People often saw me to the extent that their world lens allowed them to see. Besides, throwing at me a lot of opinions formed before they even knew who I was. If you have an idea about something that you don't know, you rely much more on your own experience than on the unknown person or object.
We always use our previous experiences to judge others, but it can't be awkward when you only use them.
When I was in college, two friends were talking in front of me about whether I like to drink beer or not. One claimed I didn't seem to get drunk, even after a lot of beers. The other stuck to the part that I didn't look drunk but agreed that it was surprising that I never drank any beer or even anything with alcohol.
They talked for several minutes about the matter, agreeing with each other. They were never saying the same thing, though. The first, the girlfriend of another great friend, was used to seeing me at the bars and parties, usually carrying a beer in my hand. She talked about the effects, or lack thereof, of alcohol on me.
The second was from my class and just remembered that I never went out with her and her classmates. She thought that I didn't drink and for this reason, didn't want to go out. She talked about me not socializing outside of school and not drinking alcohol at all. As far as I know, they still have the same opinion about me to this day.
So, if others' opinions about me can be so flexible and distinct, why would I worry? Maybe you think I should have interfered with the conversation and given my opinion. I was having too much fun to interrupt the process. I also concluded that if I tried to interfere with every situation, it would be an endless battle.
I know people are aware of this inconsistency, but few take this knowledge into practice. We live our lives judging the world based on our own experiences and expecting others to judge us differently.
I lied so well that I started to believe
Perhaps when reading the previous paragraphs, my behavior did not seem to have any adverse effect. I was doing what was in tune with my values and my desires. Everything was going well. Not quite.
I began to believe too much in this identity of not caring and doing differently than most were doing. It was making it hard for me to admit when I was ashamed or when I wanted to do something but didn't have the courage.
I will give a simple example. I've always tried to be funny and make people laugh. I was laughing a lot also. It is not uncommon for someone who has just met me say that my smile is one of the things that catch the most attention, maybe because I'm not someone who avoids any smile.
But I must tell that for years, I was ashamed to have crooked teeth. I rationalized that shame was a personal problem. I didn't talk much about it, and it was something I believed made no difference in my life. So, despite the embarrassment, I swallowed my pride and kept smiling.
It does not mean that the problem disappeared. I avoided appearing in pictures smiling at the crooked tooth side. I also avoided being part of any photo and cannot help but suspect that this was one of the reasons. Of course, the story I told myself to justify it was another.
It was a lot of reasons behind the shame about my teeth that I had never faced. It was around a year ago when I took the braces off. I decided to correct the situation, more by accident than because I admitted the problem. This situation helped me to open my eyes to various things I was putting under the rug and to reflect about in my life in general.
Keeping the mystery is easier than taking on my insecurities
The fact that I had fears, shame, and insecurities that I didn't share started to make me more reserved than an average person. Even this blog is one exercise to swim against this current.
I had some explanations about why I became like this. I relied on thoughts that I understand today how they were not as logical as they seemed. Some of them were:
- There is no real benefit when people know what I do when I'm not in their company. There is usually a negative effect.
- People treat what they know about other people's lives with less respect than the observed person expects. What you tell in secret, for example, will not be treated as a secret by the listener if the information does not seem relevant. And if they don't have a high interest in the relationship, an important matter will increase their chances not to keep the secret.
- The more information you provide, the more people have tools to fit you into a shape previously set in their heads. The form does not necessarily have to do with the way you see yourself.
- If I don't reveal the problems, why would I go around publishing what is working? I thought that propagandizing only the positive side would be unfair to the people who listen.
I could give a thousand more fake reasonings. In the end, one question puzzled me. It also helped me come up with the idea to write this post. Why do I care what other people know about me or what they are going to do with it?
If I don't care about the opinions of others, this doesn't make any sense. And why do I demand so much prudence from my friends when they share things about me? For me, to keep my life as a secret, require a lot of energy.
It's much easier to provoke a little mystery by omitting details than to reveal things I was ashamed about myself.
For example, I grew up in a place that most of my college friends didn't go and that they found dangerous. I was ashamed of it, so I started to omit where I lived. I moved from there, and yet, only years after, I assumed this shame to myself.
Let's not forget my first travel abroad. I had opted not to travel outside Brazil yet, but I was also ashamed to say that I started exploring the borders just after I became an adult. I flew the first time in an airplane when I was nineteen.
One more evidence, among many things from my past that I didn't handle well. It seemed more comfortable to believe it was no big deal to travel to the US for the first time. Face that I wrongly thought that having no money to go before seemed like a problem, it was not an option.
Finding the balance
I have no intention of saying that I keep seeking approval from the people around me all the time. However, I cannot deny that I like it when I receive a compliment, negative criticism affects me, and I enjoy meeting people like me. There's no way I will not have fears about the uncertain future. I know sometimes I do feel alone. I have insecurities about my appearance. I worry about what you'll think after reading all of this. I'm worried if anyone will be interested in reading at all. Denying doesn't help me deal better with any of these situations.
I will not fail to keep my privacy either. I will not go so far as to share my routine in every social media, as many have no problem doing it. What I need right now is to find a balance that is specific to each of us. An equilibrium that will not blind me concerning the behaviors that paralyze me.
The important thing is not to be someone who doesn’t care. What I will do when I do care is what will make a difference.
I want to have the wisdom to distinguish situations where my opinion of me should be more relevant than others. I want to have the humbleness to understand where other people's views serve to improve my behavior.
Being aware of when the opinion I hope others have is just an illusion created by my own beliefs. Maybe I can become someone that I'm prouder of, every day.
Confessing that I care about your opinion more than I should is a first step in getting there. Who knows? I cannot say that I am not trying.