I'm fifteen, almost sixteen, and lots of times I lie in bed at night worrying about what people think about me. For example, I went to a new camp last summer and we were all sitting around the campfire going around the circle telling stories about the scariest thing that ever happened to us and then it was my turn and I could see all the faces turned to me but I couldn't think of a single story because the whole night the smoke from the fire was blowing right at me and I even got up and moved around but wherever I went the stupid smoke kept blowing in my face, and my eyes kept burning and I tried to say something but I choked on the smoke, and everybody kept looking at me and it was horrible. It's like in school in the lunchroom trying to find a place to sit with my tray. When kids look at me I think whatever they're thinking about me is wrong, not like what I really am. I guess my question is, is there any way to make people think about me the way I want them to?
The bad news, I'm sorry to say, is that my answer is no. There is absolutely no way to make people think what you want them to think about you. What People Think About You is nothing more than an Opinion. And an Opinion is just something in a head. It is no more real than the dreams of the Easter Bunny dreaming in your dream of the Easter Bunny dreaming.
Inside your head, Andrew, you're the boss. You're the only one who has any control over what goes on in there. Well, this is also true of all of those kids around the campfire or in the lunch room who have an Opinion about you. They have these Opinions in their heads which they're the bosses of. You can't boss them around in their heads, and they can't boss you around in yours. And so lying in bed worrying about Other People's Opinions Of You is exactly like lying in bed worrying about the direction of that stupid wind. In both cases, Andrew, you can try this and you can try that, but there is really not much you can do about it.
However, the good news is that there is something else you can do to get rid of this problem. Every Opinion of you that anybody has ever had -- which, remember, you can do very little about -- can be broken down into two separate piles:
1. Opinions Of You That You Hear About
2. Opinions Of You That You Don't Hear About
Of those two piles, Andrew, the bigger pile by far, and I do mean by far, is pile #2. Most people don't tell other people what they think about them unless it's something that's really really nice or the person is dead. People just don't want to say bad things directly to the people they think bad things about. Why? Because it can make them seem unkind. It can ruin friendships. It can get them punched.
And this should come as fantastic news. Because it means that most of what people think about you -- Opinions Of You That You Don't Hear About -- can be stuffed into one gigantic sack and tossed out! Heave-ho! Good riddance! Are you gonna lie awake worrying about the wind? No way. And you're not going to worry about this sack of -- pardon my language -- shit either. You're free. You're very welcome.
However, the other tiny pile -- the little iddy biddy pile of Opinions Of You That You DO Hear About -- what you have there, Andrew, is something quite different. What you have there is
Because now you've really got something valuable to work with. Now you get a rare glimpse into what is inside of someone else's head concerning you. If the Opinion of yourself that you hear about is good, terrific. Throw yourself a little party in your head. But the most valuable Opinions Of You That You Hear About -- the ones you should pay special attention to -- are the ones that give you An Unpleasant Feeling. When you find out that somebody has said something bad about you that makes you kind of mad, makes you kind of pissed off, pay special attention, because your anger may be a sign that there is some Truth to it. Look it as a gift. It could be, Andrew, that you have in fact been behaving somewhat like an asshole lately and now, thanks to this person, you can head out on a less assholish path that you never would have considered otherwise.
And remember this, because it's important: When you set out to discover more about why someone has a particular Bad Opinion of you, it would be nice if you could change that person's mind, but that should not be your Main Goal. Your Main Goal is to find out why that person thinks the way that person thinks. If you think you see errors in the way that person thinks, by all means report this Opinion of yours to that person, keeping in mind, of course, that your Opinion may have zero effect on that person's Opinion of you because -- we've been over this -- that person and only that person is the boss of what goes on inside of that person's head.
And so, Andrew, here's what it boils down to: If people think you're more wonderful than you think you are, maybe they see something you don't. If people think you're a bigger jerk than you think you are, maybe they see something you don't. It's pretty much out of your control. Check it all out. Why not? And if you start to really worry, toss and turn, can't sleep, remember that camp fire, and that stupid wind.