Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner. --Lao Tzu
It's Monday morning. My conversation with Aubrey, 8th grade, starts with her declaring, "Everybody's talking about me! They're all spreading rumors about me. This morning, all the girls were staring at me on the way to class."
Her worst fears have been confirmed. She's not fitting in, and everybody knows it.
The Everybody. The super powerful "All" whose purpose is to gang up against us, talk about us behind our backs, judge us, and otherwise make our lives miserable.
At no time is Everybody more debilitating than in middle school. (Or is that true?)
I'm paid by the school district to dispel the mythical powers of Everybody. I take contracts out on Everybody, like an assasin.
So my response to her declaration was, "Everybody? Is that true? We have over 900 students and about 50 adults on this campus. Are ALL of them really talking about (your hair/your clothes/how you spent your weekend...)?"
That was enough to momentarily stop Aubrey's tears. Of course her answer to that question was NO. But it sure felt to her like YES! Everybody!
The meaning attached to what "everyone" may think or how they could react is what stops the middle schooler in her tracks. It breaks her heart and sends her running to the counselor's office where we open a new box of tissues.
So Aubrey and I work her thoughts. We circle around to the truths that bring her more peace of mind:
Everybody isn't talking. I made that part up.
I have friends who stand beside me no matter what.
Rumors are not true.
So what if someone is talking about my shirt/weight/hair? How much do I really care?
Aubrey's fears and embarrassment subside. And Everybody goes back to their respective corners as she goes back to math class, sans tissues.
But Everybody's still lurking out there. And they'll show up again. Maybe as soon as 5th Period. Definitely during midlife.
We mid-lifers are reasonable adults who've lived a relatively long time. But our concern about what Everybody will think never seems to die. And we oftentimes let that concern run our show.
This can happen when we embark on new adventures, or take detours from the pack, or otherwise live our authentic lives.
Then Everybody sings their heralding call:
Are you crazy?
Who do you think you are?
This is not how it's done.
This is not what you planned.
This is not what We do, especially at Our age.
You don't have the energy/smarts/preparation/background to succeed.
In her book Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck (who has a PhD in sociology no less) refers to the Everybody as the Generalized Other. Sort of a Committee representing all the conditioning, learning, and programming from our backgrounds and from our culture in general who dictate to us what we should or should not be doing.
Martha explains this as a push/pull between our Essential self and our Social self. The "everybody" is relentlessly urging us to do what's socially acceptable. In spite of what we essentially want to do to be happy, or what we know is for our highest good.
Just try to fit in! That makes Everybody happy, and peace reigns in the village.
I've started asking all the Aubreys a simple follow-up question: "So, who is your everybody?"
Aubrey had already agreed it was not the entire school population. So name them already!
And she does. She can actually narrow Everybody down pretty quickly to her cousin and her cousin's friend. And maybe the guy they sit with at lunch.
Now we're getting somewhere. Now we can talk through how much it matters what those three people think.
It turns out that her cousin's opinion is important. She'll have a little talk with him, share her hurt feelings. The other two? They don't matter so much. She doesn't even know that one guy's name.
My Everybody started to chant as I started to build my new business right alongside planning to build a new house with my husband.
What are you doing?! It's too late to do all this now! You should be downshifting, downsizing, and just plain slowing down.
My Social self was right there shouting along with Everybody that I'd better just stop it right now and fit in.
But I was making that part up. Turns out, I couldn't name my Everybody. Not a single one of them.
The truth is that "everybody" didn't care. According to Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, when you set out to live a creative life, NOBODY really cares. At least not much or for very long. Which is a huge relief to my Essential self.
Maybe it would have been easier for me to quiet that noisy crowd of everbodies if I'd started practicing when I was Aubrey's age.
Better late than never.
Who was your Everybody at Aubrey's age?
Who are they as you've gotten older? What have they been saying you should (or shouldn't) do?