I’m hitting thirty next year and, as with many ‘big’ birthdays, I’ve been doing a bit of self-reflection. I’ve come to realise that my attitude towards what other people think of me has changed quite significantly over time.
For most of my life, I’ve been desperate to be liked and accepted. It hasn’t necessarily been about being popular – it has been about being well-thought of. Wanting to people-please has often meant that I change the way I act or react around others. At its worst, I hide myself: my values, my sense of humour, my opinions and my anxieties. Essentially, I become a grey yes-man.
Going to university first started to change my way of thinking. I developed a friendship with a group of free-thinking and funny students, who accepted me for me (warts and all). Because of this I started to reconsider my other friendships and cut out people who didn’t allow me to be me. I came to the realisation that I only had three true friends at secondary school along with my other half. Looking back, I now feel incredibly frustrated that I spent so long trying to be liked by people who couldn’t have cared less about me.
The next turning point after university was getting into pin-up and vintage fashion. I found a new community to be part of and I was excited. With that excitement, old feelings of wanting validation and acceptance returned once more. During meet-ups or events, I’d judge myself against everyone – I had to look perfect and be so agreeable that no-one could say anything bad about me. This time though, I could see what was happening. I made a decision to focus on reciprocal, positive friendships rather than fluffy, meaningless acquaintances. From this, I’ve developed a handful of solid and wonderful relationships with people I truly care for. Just because someone is into the same stuff that you are, it doesn’t mean that that person is right for you. The best friendships come a huge variety of elements – not just shared preferences.
Part of me wishes that I could have come to this realisation at a much earlier age but then another part of me knows that I’d never have got to this point without all those experiences to shape and change me. It’s such a freeing feeling. I still worry about what people think of me and I still get massive anxiety around disagreeing with others but it’s only the thoughts of people who I have strong bonds with that matter now. No minute gone comes ever again so focus those who are truly important to you.