“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Have you ever noticed that people have an opinion about everything? Not only that they have an opinion, but that they will share it with you freely and often unsolicited. People will happily tell you what you should do, or give you advice or even just raise an eyebrow at what you are proposing to do with your life (that one facial gesture alone seems to speak volumes).

Here’s the thing: People do this. All. The. Time. From a positive perspective, I think it comes from a place of genuine caring. I mean, if they really didn’t care, they probably wouldn’t bother offering words of wisdom. But it’s still not always what you want or need to hear.

[As an aside, in my experience, I’ve noticed that the people that are most inclined to offer advice are, interestingly enough, often the same people who are least likely to listen to any that comes their way. It’s more of a one-way street. If you’re one of these people, you might want to try noticing when you do it. Maybe give it a rest from time to time. See what it creates space for in your relationships and conversations.]

Here’s the other thing though:

You don’t have to take it/listen to it/act upon it. I mean, you can listen without giving someone else’s experience of your life more credence than you give yourself. If you don’t want to listen, you can also request that, too. It’s your choice; both the direction you will go and your decision about who you will listen to and what you’ll take or leave from those conversations.

Stop giving other people’s opinions more airtime and trustworthiness than you give your own. You have enough to worry about without pushing your thoughts to the back of the line. You have enough work making up your own mind without letting other people get their stuff all over your process.

You have what you need to make your decisions. You know what you want. If you just thought to yourself, “No, I don’t, Bay–that’s the problem,” then I would assert you are just not that practiced at consulting with yourself and listening, really listening to your own voice.

Imagine you’re trying to make a relatively simple decision, say at an ice cream parlour. You’re torn between the options (I know people for whom this kind of decision is paralyzing, as though it’s the last time they will ever get to eat ice cream). Suddenly, a helpful employee points out to you that additional flavours extend to the other counter, doubling options and making your choice twice as difficult as you’d initially thought.

You have to live with the outcome of your decisions, be they as frivolous as ice cream or as important as career, education and family (however you hold things in your life). You have lots of reactions and feelings and thoughts and processing to move through, and most likely, a lot of fear. When you let other people “should” all over you, you’re taking their fears, judgments and contexts and layering them over top of your own.

Stop giving other people's opinions more airtime and trustworthiness than you give your own. Click To Tweet

Need another example? Sure thing. For me, sharing with people that I don’t intend to be a “lifer” in a government job is fraught with peril. “But what about the pension?” and “What about maternity leave and benefits?” If I wasn’t worried about those things (I like to call them the “golden handcuffs”) before (even if I was), they’re now a whole lot louder.

It’s like swimming in a lake and having someone call out to you from a boat, “Aren’t you worried about the eels?” If you didn’t know about the eels before, you’re probably pretty darned worried now (fear) and either wishing you didn’t know, or that you’d never gotten in the water to begin with (regret). There might not actually even be eels in that lake, but you’re going to start feeling them anyway and panicking in the water is not a great place to be.

We all do it. I do it, too. We want other people to point us in the right direction. We assume they know more than we do, that their input is more valuable, more credible (well, some people have the opposite impression, but that’s not the point of this post). When we can’t make a choice (or just don’t want to), we want someone else to do it for us. In some ways, we’re shedding responsibility, so that we don’t need to take the blame if it doesn’t work out. “It was bad advice,” or “So-and-so told me to do it.” It lets us off the hook.

It so does not let you off the hook. It just puts you on someone else’s. Doubting yourself comes at a cost. It’s very much an at-effect way of being. It’s also very much dis-empowering. You know who don’t always get to make their own decisions? Children. Because adults know better (sometimes yes, sometimes no, I realize, but please play along). And how much did kids like it when they’re told what to do? Not so much, really. They find ways to get out of it, bend the rules and break them whenever they can.

If “the voices in your head can’t make up your mind”, why do you think someone else’s can? Since when does adding more noise create clarity? I think it just adds more confusion to the din. Why is their voice is smarter, stronger, older, wiser or any other adjective that ends in “-er” than your own? Louder ≠ better.

Listening to all the advice, opinion and input around you is basically your Survival Mechanism inviting someone else’s Survival Mechanism to come on over and party together in your head. Quit it. It’s just another way of quitting on yourself. You are the last person on this planet that should ever quit on yourself.

You can also say, “Thanks for the input. I’ll let you know what I decide.” Sometimes, I have found that I need to say this to my Itty Bitty Shitty Committee, so I can hear my own voice–the one that isn’t driven by fear and Survival Mechanism. Pardon the language, but this Robert Downey Jr. quote really sums it up nicely:

“Are you an advice giver or taker? How does it serve you to be either? What does it cost you?”