photo: Winston Hearn on flickr

photo: Winston Hearn on flickr

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most, how much do you care what other people think of you?

If you said 1, you’re a liar totally enlightened.

If you said 10, Welcome to my world.

It’s not that I always care what others think about me. I care a lot less than I used to. The older I get, the more I seem to be adopting a fuck it nonchalant approach to what others think of me.

That said, these days I’m on stage a lot, which means I’m in front of lots of people on a regular basis, which means I’m exposed to lots of potential opinions about me. In other words, I now have lots of opportunities to totally wig out calmly notice my reaction to what other people might be thinking about me.

Notice that I say might be thinking about me. Most of the time I have no idea what people are actually thinking. Especially when I’m on stage. The audience members might be smiling, they might be frowning. Ultimately, I have no idea what’s going on in their heads.

Maybe they’re smiling because they just got a promotion at work. Maybe they’re frowning because their pants are too tight.

What do I know? I’m just a Goofball Rapper.

photo: Will Bakx

photo: Will Bakx

The other morning, Melissa and I were performing at a local spiritual center.

Early in the service, the host announced that they were celebrating a member of the congregation who had recently received a prestigious award. The award winner was in the audience, along with some of his family.

Two of the family members immediately caught my attention. They were both women, one a young adult and the other a few decades older. They looked like they might be mother and daughter. Both women were dressed up and sitting quietly next to their honored family member.

It wasn’t their family resemblance or their fancy clothes that caught my attention, however. What was most striking about them was that they both looked utterly and completely uncomfortable to be there.

Did they hate church? Or did they just not like this church? Or maybe they didn’t like the family member they were honoring. Or maybe their pants were too tight.

I had no idea.

I just knew that, as I looked at them, a tiny thought entered in my head:

I want them to like me.

Melissa and I were performing one of our raps that morning. This particular rap, Fortify Your Faith, involves an audience echo and dance moves.

Younger people often like our raps. Perhaps the younger member of the Utterly Uncomfortable Duo (UUD) would melt in joy and appreciation once she realized we were going to do something cool and groovy like a rap.

photo: Cristian Borquez on flickr

photo: Cristian Borquez on flickr

When I was teaching the congregation the echo part and the dance moves, I saw someone in the family nudge the younger member of the UUD. They appeared to be teasing her about something.

Maybe she really was a fan of rap. Or maybe she thought the whole thing was stupid.

Only one way to find out.

Melissa and I started the rap. The audience immediately joined in. They were rapping. They were moving. They were having a great time.

For most of the song, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the UUD. I knew they were there. I could see them out of the corner of my eye. I just couldn’t bring myself to look.

Finally, near the end of the song, I peeked.

There, in the second row, both members of the UUD were staring at me. They weren’t moving. They weren’t rapping. They were just staring and looking Utterly Uncomfortable, just as they had been the entire service.

Needless to say, this threw me off.

I had not succeeded in my goal! I had not gotten them to like me! At least, not as far as I could tell!

I could feel my energy start to flag. But the song wasn’t over. I still had more rapping to do.

photo: Will Bakx

photo: Will Bakx

I turned my gaze to the rest of the congregation. They were still happy. Still moving, still rapping. They still liked it.

When it was over, Melissa and I compared notes. Turns out she had the same reaction to the UUD. She had noticed them too, both before and during the performance.

And she, like me, had to turn her attention away from the UUD and toward the rest of the audience in order not to be thrown off.

I promised in the title of this post that I’d teach you four steps to master the art of not caring what other people think.

And I will! After all, I want you to like me!

Here are the four steps:

1. First of all, you have to admit you care what other people think. If you’re a sociopath super-duper enlightened, you don’t care. But the rest of us do.

Admitting that you care what other people think is the first step to getting over it.

2. Next, surround yourself with people who love and support you just as you are.

photo: Mountain View on flickr

photo: Mountain View on flickr

If you don’t currently have these kind of people in your life, find some. Look for a group of like-minded individuals who will appreciate you for you. Maybe it’s a spiritual community. Maybe it’s a knitting group. Whoever they are, the Number One Criteria is that these folks accept you as you are.

3. The third step is to cultivate self-acceptance. Affirmations are great for this. Quieting the mind and finding a calm center, through meditation or yoga, also works.

Some people start with self-love and then find other people who love them. Either way, having a strong sense of self-worth within and without is key.

4. The fourth and final step is that when you find yourself being affected by the negative opinion of others, call upon steps two and three.

Meditate. Step up your affirmations. Phone a friend.

photo: Cambodia4Kids.org on flickr

photo: Cambodia4Kids.org on flickr

In my case, I needed to turn my gaze from the stone-faced UUD and look out to the rest of the audience. Melissa needed to do the same thing. Steeping ourselves in the positive regard of others helped soothe the sting of the UUD.

It also helped that I’ve built my inner self-worth to the point where I could let in the appreciation of the rest of the group.

Ultimately, I have no idea what the UUD was thinking. Maybe they were both in ecstasy and that’s how they chose to express it.

All I know is that they appeared to be thoroughly unimpressed with what Melissa and I were doing, and I allowed this to throw me off center.

As long as I’m alive, I’m sure to be affected by the opinions of other people. We all are.

But the more we practice these four steps, the less we have to let the opinions of others – real and imagined – stop us from expressing our unique forms of humanness.

Now, that’s an art worth mastering.

photo: Travis on flickr

photo: Travis on flickr

How do you handle the opinions of others? Share your comments below!

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