06/08/2015 03:20 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2016

5 Ways to Stop Being the Center of the Universe

Ann Marie Kurtz via Getty Images

But what will people think of me?

I'm amazed at the number of women -- myself included, sometimes -- who hold themselves back because they're worried about what other people think of them.

Take the woman who says training other people can be misinterpreted as being "pushy" while the same quality exhibited by men would be considered "mentoring."

OK. I get that. Yes, there is an entire list of behaviors that, when applied to men, are deemed positive and when used to describe women... well, not so much. And "pushy" is the kindest one I can think of.

As with anything in life, we are at choice. We can get resentful (and I have been) that women are denigrated for displaying the exact same traits as men. If we're not careful, however, we can get stuck here in a downward spiral that poisons our life. Or we can accept the fact that we have no control over what people think of us, shrug and move on.

A large part of moving forward is just not giving a fig about what others think. Because caring too much about other people's opinions can hold you back from being the best version of yourself.

Here's where I note some qualifiers -- a list, in descending order, of people whose opinions of you carry weight:

  • Immediate family members, including spouse, kids, parents and so on
  • Close friends
  • Your boss/clients
  • Your employees and other business associates

I'm not saying you should 100% buy in to their opinions, because you are your own person and should live the life that works best for you. Listen to see if their views have merit, understand that they have skin in the game and then make your own judgments and decisions.

On the other hand, if you're worried about what some random stranger on the street thinks of you, or the guy behind you in line at Starbucks, or someone you just met at a party, then it's time to give yourself a good shake and figure out why your self-esteem is circling the bowl.

Here are five ways to desensitize yourself to what other people think of you.

  1. Curb your imagination. "Oh my God! If I wear those socks, everyone will think I'm color blind!" Or "I just know everyone will hate my presentation and think I'm an idiot." Hold your horses, cowgirl! First, you need to learn how to stop being the center of the universe. Not everyone's focus is on your clothing choice of color or pattern, or how many times you stumble giving your speech. That's kind of big-headed of you, don't you think? Second, think it through. There are going to be some people who absolutely love purple and green argyle and some people who hate it. There will be some people who snore through your report and others who will be riveted. Stop thinking in absolutes and cut yourself some slack.
  2. Be OK with not knowing what people think. You may be surprised at how little people actually think about you -- or, in the immortal words of writer Ethel Barrett, "We would worry less about what others think of us if we realized how seldom they do."
  3. You have no control over how other people perceive you. At the very least, their opinions are based on incomplete information. They have no idea what's going on in your life, head and heart; even those closest to you will be clueless to a degree. And truly, is it their business? Some people will judge you based on your skin color (or hair color, as I found out recently), your sex, age, educational background, the car you drive and so on. Should we let those opinions determine our actions and our feelings of self-worth? I don't think so. People's perceptions are more about them than us and have at least as much to do with what's going on in their own lives. You may have been trigger, but they hold the gun.
  4. Be comfortable in your own skin. Everyone has quirks and foibles. Everyone has habits and perspectives. We are unique, just like everyone else. The more comfortable we are with ourselves, the less other people's opinions of us matter. And for extra bonus points, the less judgmental we become as well.
  5. What would your life look like if you didn't care about the opinions of others? More importantly, how would it feel to live your life unburdened by the opinions and expectations of others? Maybe you'd learn salsa if you didn't care about what people thought as you staggered through the dance steps. Maybe you'd buy a house in the mountains and start a bed and breakfast if you didn't care that people thought you were nuts. Maybe you'd learn the tuba, or build websites or sail around the world. And love every minute of it, because it's what you choose.

We can live our lives trying to be all things to all people and we will fail miserably. And die miserably, too. I can't imagine a more stress- and angst-filled life.

What's your best tip on how to deal with other people's opinions of you? I'm always up for learning new tricks!