Do you think I’m special?
Do you think I’m nice?
Am I bright enough to shine in your spaces?
-OneRepublic, “All the Right Moves”
I worry about what people think of me. I get a high from compliments, and really strong praise leaves me floating on air all day. Insults and criticisms can be devastating, their effects lingering sometimes for months, with aftershocks even years later.
Most everyone does worry, but I worry excessively. I guess a lot of writers do.
Worrying even has its advantages. For one thing, it makes you highly aware of people’s little cues, their tones and gestures and phrases that indicate slight pleasure or annoyance. That can be useful: as a writer, as a teacher, as a husband or a friend.
It also makes you listen carefully to people, give them the benefit of the doubt. Rarely is anyone so wrong that they don’t have at least a kernel of truth in their opinion, and focusing on that truth as a starting point makes debate and dialogue more fruitful.
And of course, there’s a basic rationality to caring what others think. If you believe something, and five other people believe you’re wrong, well, there’s a good chance that the problem is you, not them. That rationality is why evolution gave us the trait in the first place.
But this usefulness has its borders, and I’ve wandered beyond them most of my life. I care past the limits of rationality. I find myself happier with mediocre work that people praise, than excellent work that goes unnoticed.
Sometimes when you believe something, and five other people say you’re wrong, you’re still right. I can and do stick to my guns in situations like that. But I wish it didn’t make me feel like a lizard had crawled into my stomach and laid its eggs there.
Not long ago, I was telling all this to somebody, and as we talked, he did something really odd. He abbreviated it: What People Think, WPT.
I love this, because calling it WPT pulls it out of the fuzzy anxiety cloud and makes it a Thing, a noun, something to include in your strategies.
Something that can be defeated.
I haven’t conquered WPT yet, and maybe I never will. But by treating it as a known adversary, I can start to deal with it.
Are you bothered by WPT? What do you do about it?