What People Think

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?

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6 responses to “What People Think

  1. Definitely this blogging thing has gotten me a little more conscious of WPT. I’m a sucker for numbers and even though I really don’t have that much data to go off I find myself frequently checking whether a post is doing well or not. I don’t think I’m really learning much from those numbers at this point, but I still feel the need to draw conclusions.

    As for broader work, I try to get my work read by someone who doesn’t like the genre I’m writing in. If they still plow through it and end up liking it, then I’m doing well. Set yourself up to be criticized rather than affirmed that way when you are praised it’s a lot more surprising.

    That said, props man, love the blog and love your work. You are excelle-awesome!

  2. All the freakin’ time. But not from everyone. There are levels. I probably experience the most anxiety when dealing with people that I don’t know that well, but want to make a good impression upon. Especially intelligent adults/people older than me. Because it seems to me they can see into the depths of my soul and evaluate it’s every molecule because they are just that wise and experienced.

    Over the last few months, though, I’ve been working on lessening my fear of WPT, and one way of doing that has been over the internet. For example, a couple months ago, I would never have posted comments on other people’s blogs. But I’ve been forcing myself to do so, and to do things like put my poetry, drawings, stories and music on the internet, where other people can judge it- judge me!- and it’s starting to show in my “real” life.

    And- as little as my opinion matters in my own eyes at times- I firmly believe that you are an amazing person whose blog I am glad I read. And I hope you continue, because even if other people don’t like it, you like it, right?

    • Evlora – I’m glad to hear that WPT is lessening its hold on you. Challenging yourself like that is a great thing to do, and if the Internet can help you do it, so much the better. And thanks for the vote of confidence, too. I needed that today. You are welcome to leave me comments anytime!

  3. No.
    I care what people think, I really do. At least if I consider them intelligent.
    That means, unfortunately, that if I don’t know you very well unless I have reason to, according to me you might not exist. I make an effort to be nice to people, but I’m not exactly what you might call observant.
    Luckily for me, right now everyone in my classes that I know are smart people. Maybe it’s because I’m in one of the most advanced honors programs in the world? I dunno. But it cuts down on brain space that I use to organize.
    Usually if someone has a different opinion than me, we battle it out verbally until one of us convinces the other person that their opinion is correct, or in rare cases we both just get tired of arguing. It’s a very court-based argument system I use.
    Usually I don’t know people’s opinions unless I specifically ask them. Like I said, I’m not very observant.

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