How I Let Go Of Caring What People Think
Today is my 31st birthday. That’s right, I’ve aged right out of striking distance to my youthful 20s and am careening towards middle age. But you know what, I’m glad. Getting older has been good for me.
Aging has enabled me to let go of caring what people think about me and instead focus on who I really am and what I want to accomplish over the course of my life. Sure, I still want to be seen as a helpful, productive, creative, humorous innovative, nice (sort of, but not too nice) person, but I’m not caught up in society’s judgements of me.
For your amusement, I’m including photos of myself on a few recent birthdays. You’ll note that I’m wearing what appears to be the same outfit in a few photos–that’s because it is the same outfit and I do wear it a lot, apparently, on my birthday.
What Other People Wanted Me To Do
In my not-so-distant youth, I wasted an inordinate amount of time worrying about meeting other people’s expectations. I felt legitimately compelled to accomplish certain things, behave a certain way, and adhere to certain life goals. I was a perfectionist with a rigid Type A personality (still am, but I’d say I’m recovering). I thought I should get straight A’s, do lots of community service, shine in my career, be a charming homemaker, and look amazing while doing it.
No one was explicitly telling me to do these things, but I felt the weight of expectations every day. The pernicious thing about peer pressure and societal influence is that it constantly buzzes through our brains. It murmurs just below the audible level and permeates your subconscious.
The covert, and not-so-covert, messages that advertisers and the media fling at us have a way of imbedding themselves in our psyches and making us feel inadequate (or at least they did in mine). After all, not a person among us can live up to the herculean models of perfection we believe we’re supposed to emulate.
When I was more susceptible to this stream of idealized images, I felt permanently inadequate. I thought I was always behind and never good enough because I labored under an overarching, deeply held conviction that I should always be doing something bigger, better, grander. I was suffering from lifestyle inflation in the truest sense–I thought my very life was insufficient.
I’m thankful for many aspects of my 20s–finishing school, marrying Mr. Frugalwoods, buying our first house, adopting Frugal Hound, and perhaps most of all, our judicious frugality. But, you couldn’t pay me to relive that decade (ok well, you could pay me…). I was stressed, anxious, preoccupied with doing “the right thing,” and out of touch with who I really am and what actually makes me happy. I wasted so much time, energy, and creativity worrying about what people might or might not be judging me for.
Comparing myself and my achievements, or lack thereof, to incredibly accomplished people was an obsession and it made me miserable. I couldn’t celebrate my own achievements, because there was always another goal I should attain.
I based my ambitions and plans around a fictional, glorified projection of what a “successful” person was. And so, I worked to climb the ladder in my career–never mind that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing–I went to grad school so that I’d have an advanced degree–never mind that it was a boring slog for me–I dressed, acted, and looked a certain way. I projected an image of a polished, professional person. But I was somewhat miserable and consumed with self-doubt.
Who Knew Turning 30 Could Be So Great?!
Rounding the corner of 30 last year was essentially my watershed moment. It was shortly after cresting my third decade that Mr. Frugalwoods and I launched our plan to retire early to a homestead in the woods. The old me would’ve been too concerned with what other people might think about us to actually pursue this passion. After all, I’m sure people will think/already do think:
- They’re crazy and have no idea how difficult homesteading is.
- They’re throwing away successful careers.
- They’re removing their chance of being extremely wealthy at age 65.
- They’re opening themselves up to financial instability.
- Greyhounds are the worst farm dogs in the entire world.
Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s all true to some extent (especially the one about greyhounds… ). But, I don’t care. Mr. FW and I realize our early retirement goal is a counter-culture, non-traditional move and it’s not something I would’ve been comfortable with if I still cared what people think.
Letting go of caring enabled me to figure out what I really want out of life–not what society wants out of my life. And, as it turns out, society doesn’t care what I do with my life.
In the end, the only person who truly cares how you lived your life is you.
No one else will ever have quite as much of a vested interest in whether or not you were happy, or a good person, or fulfilled, or doing beneficial work that brought you purpose and meaning. Your partner, family, and friends hopefully want what’s best for you, but you only have yourself and God to answer to at the end of the day.
In growing older I’ve gained this perspective and developed the ability to see beyond myself and my insecurities. I’m staking a claim for a non-conformist life and thoughtfully considering what I want my positive impact in the world to be.
Maturity has brought me peace. And each passing year seems to be my best year. My expectations and metrics for perfection are diminishing as time goes on, which is wholly liberating.
Women: We Have It The Worst
I think the pressures to conform and excel are especially pronounced for women. We’re told we can have it all, which really means we need to do it all and cause ourselves incredible stress in the process.
We should advance in our careers, look gorgeous and thin, marry well (but not be dependent on our partner), have children (while still looking just as gorgeous and just as thin), be an involved, nurturing parent while continuing to advance in our careers and, oh yeah, look gorgeous and thin. Being a marathon runner seems to be an element of the perfect woman equation as well. Maybe you’re supposed to change diapers while on stage delivering a keynote address at a conference that you jogged 20 miles to? TBD. I’ll let you know if I ever find myself in that situation.
I hate how our culture looks down on stay-at-home parents, criticizes those without decent jobs, maligns childless couples and single folks, and judges women endlessly and cruelly about their appearances.
I hate how advertisers prey on women’s guilt to goad us into buying, buying, buying. Make-up, hair care, tanning, diet foods, nailpolish, greyhound breath mints–anything and everything to make us look, act, and smell less like the actual, flawed people we are and more like the nonexistent plasticized woman without foibles.
Mrs. Frugalwoods = Very Not Perfect (AND she’s 31, geez)
Through this evolution in my thinking, I’ve been on a crusade to reduce my vanity and preoccupation with my appearance. Not buying clothes for a year and 3 months (and counting) has helped. Having Mr. Frugalwoods cut my hair was another vital step. And, ceasing to wear make-up (other than mascara… I have my weaknesses, people) completes my triumvirate of decreasing the time, money, and anguish over my appearance. It’s still a daily struggle for me though, and I admit no victory.
I don’t need to be “successful” or “beautiful” or “the perfect woman” by anyone’s standards. I need to be honest with myself about what fulfills me and what I savor. Freeing myself up to even consider, let alone pursue, our homestead dream was the single most self-deterministic decision I’ve ever made.
I feel as though every other major decision in my life, aside from marrying Mr. FW, was ruled by my attempts to follow the prescribed “right” path: going to college, getting a job, going to grad school, getting a better job, pushing myself to do more and more. It was all done in pursuit of the ephemeral perfect with basically zero regard for what brings me zeal and actually causes me to be a better person.
How Frugality Plays A Role
The ethos of the frugal weirdo stems from divorcing myself from pointless societal conventions and lifestyle inflation. It’s vastly more frugal to live my own life than to live a cookie-cutter prototype of a perfect life. Why? Because society’s vision of the perfect life is primarily a life filled with stuff.
The perfect family is always pictured inside, or in front of, their spacious new home or luxury car (preferably both) surrounded by lovely decor, clothes, and gadgets. I’m pretty sure no advertiser ever has posed “the perfect family” in the free woods, sitting on a free log, wearing some second-hand hiking gear, with a bizarro looking greyhound at their side.
This conflation of stuff with happiness is inherently misguided. We all know that stuff breaks, gets old, and then we want new stuff! The endless carousel of consumerism strikes again. On the other hand, finding a peaceful life of purpose is cheap and never gets old.
At the granular and immediate level, I’m saving money by not buying make-up, clothes, haircare products, a new car, and other trappings of lifestyle inflation. But at the global level, I’m reducing my dependence on material goods and my negative impact on our planet. Pretty heavy stuff for just trying to live a simpler, more genuine life.
It’s my belief that when we live the life we want to, we’re able to put that joy back out into the world–through volunteering, philanthropy, and an outlook of kindness.
I’m not entirely there yet and I acknowledge I have a lot more work to do on myself. I get cranky, grumpy, frustrated with the job that I so desperately want to quit, anxious for our homestead, and angry about being stuck waiting for time to elapse and our savings to grow.
Yes, I recognize the incredibly fortunate position Mr. FW and I find ourselves in, and I’m grateful every day. But that doesn’t mean I always act out of gratitude. I swear, I get upset, I cry, and I eat too many cookies. I’m an imperfect person no longer aiming for perfection. I’m instead aiming to be OK, to be content, to do good work, and to be the most loving wife, daughter (in-law), sister (in-law), cousin, aunt, citizen, friend, neighbor–and hopefully someday mother–that I can.
What I Hope For 32 (and beyond)
My hope is that on future birthdays, I’ll look back and reflect that I’ve been able to slough off my attitude of discontentment and fully embrace wherever I find myself in life.
That I’ll live wholly in the moment, unperturbed by unfair expectations of women, of people, of myself. That I’ll be kinder to myself and more forgiving of my failures, and the failures of others. And, that I still won’t care what anyone else thinks of me.
What do you hope for at this stage in your life?
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