A particularly difficult aspect of personal growth involves learning to deal constructively with other peoples’ reflexive pessimism.
For some reason, whenever we get excited about or interested in something, there seems to be a reflex on the part of people in our lives to say, “that won’t work,” “that’s silly,” “you’re ill-suited to that,” or something similar.
Their hearts may well be in the right place. They may be just trying to save us from having discouraging or frustrating or painful experiences. I don’t for a minute think that most of the people who immediately discourage us from pursuing something new are just trying to bring us down (though some are, I suppose).
I think those people just don’t realize what a bummer it is to us when their very first instinct is to shoot down something we found interesting or exciting or intriguing…especially when it’s hard to find things interesting or exciting or intriguing in our lives.
Some people are just not great at diplomatically holding their tongues. And, in fairness, this is probably something that afflicts all of us from time to time.
We’ve ALL been reflexively negative or pessimistic at times. It doesn’t make us— or the people in your life who are reflexively negative or pessimistic— bad or uncaring people.
What it does mean, though, is that we have to develop the skill of keeping others’ opinions in perspective.
We have to develop the tool of holding to our own vision, even when we’re getting negative feedback from the environment.
We have to develop the ability to make our own value judgments about the advisability (or not!) of anything that might be on our radar screen…instead of being pressured to give up on ideas or projects simply because someone else might think they’re stupid or unrealistic.
Developing and holding to our own vision and perspective is an integral part of self-esteem…and it’s a skillset that can be learned.
Why is developing and holding to our own vision so important to self-esteem?
Because, at its core, the concept of self-esteem is all about a feeling of personal agency (the conviction that you can get stuff done) and personal respect (the conviction that your self, your values, and your goals are worthy and important).
It’s tough to feel personal agency if we’re constantly giving up on our ideas, plans, goals, or dreams just because someone else gave us static about them.
It’s tough to feel self-respect when we’re constantly prioritizing someone else’s opinions or perceptions over our own.
None of this means, by the way, that our own perspective is always right. Lord knows, we’re going to get impractical, not-so-advisable ideas and plans in our heads from time to time. I’m not at all saying that your “gut” feeling that something is right or a good idea is always correct.
Nor am I saying that you should never seek or accept feedback, including (especially!) negative feedback from others. Seeking others’ perspectives is an important aspect of reality testing that we need to use if we’re going to create a realistic life plan for ourselves— for the simple reason that we don’t know everything and we can’t see everything clearly from our own, limited perspective.
Others’ feedback and perception is, in fact, valuable.
The problem arises when we become so reactive to others’ negative feedback that we give up on ideas or abandon goals or dreams just because they gave us some crap about it.
Good ideas sometimes get crap.
Bad ideas are sometimes greeted with enthusiasm from friends and contacts.
The thing we need to keep in mind is: others’ perspectives are tools we can use to reality-test our ideas and plans…but they’re not the ONLY tools we can or should use.
We also need to remember that others’ perspectives are derived not only from their unique viewpoints, but their own biases, experiences, and priorities…which may not echo or be congruent with our values, experiences, or priorities.
After awhile, it becomes easy to abandon goals and plans if we immediately get flak from other people about them. No one likes being told their idea is a bad idea. No one likes being made to feel silly for being excited or enthusiastic for an idea that somebody else thinks is dumb.
You can abandon ideas or plans if you want.
But don’t abandon them simply because you got some reflexive negative feedback about them.
Take that feedback into consideration…but then return to your own priorities, values, and goals.
Make YOUR values system your guiding compass for making decisions…not your desire to please or look cool to others.
Your self-esteem will thank you for it.
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