My 5-year old daughter LOVES music. She’s got a great sense of rhythm that even her teachers have picked up on. Each time we are in the car together and I’ve got music playing, she sings along – particularly if it’s a female artist. She also makes special requests like, “Mummy, could you play that song with the girl that wants to wreck a ball??” Then I skip to Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’. As she listens to the song, she will often ask, “Mummy, is the girl in the song happy or sad?” Most of the time, I say the girl is sad. I see in my mirror that my daughter becomes sad too. Suddenly, a somewhat meaningless song becomes a sadness-inducer. Today – a day after my birthday- I couldn’t help thinking about how I often let other people’s feelings or disposition smear on me.
I admit that for most of my life, I’ve been virtually obsessed with what people think of me. At first, it was a guide as I picked up social norms in the different cultures I was raised in. People’s reactions to me helped me know if I was doing the right thing. If people seemed anxious, I would become anxious too. If they appeared pleased, then I was pleased. For years, I learned how to behave by observing people’s reactions to me. I suppose it’s a skill that everyone picks up from early years but it often made me miserable. Ultimately, people are inconsistent and unreliable. They approve of you today but they are not sure of you tomorrow.
I recently started reading a book on authentic leadership (True North by Bill George). As I read the first few pages, I realised that I’d carried a bad habit into my adulthood. I thought I was being self aware by considering others’ reactions to me but I was really being self-conscious. Self-awareness is considering my own reactions to situations – identifying my triggers and managing them. I can’t control how people feel or what they think of me but I can control how I react to it. I’ve found this realisation liberating. I can be myself far more freely without the extra pressure of guessing, considering and trying to change what people think.
I’m now really loving my mid 30s as it’s so much better than my mid 20s. I suppose with age, who you really are cannot stay hidden.