🗞️ Issue #2:On worrying about what people might think about you

Or more like how I stopped worrying too much about what people thought

I didn’t wear a bikini in a very long time.

I have always worried that if I dared to put on a two piece bathing suit, I'll get side eyes for having had one doughnut too many. Clearly I should have spent more time at the gym and less time in the kitchen, people would think. Or at least I worried they would.

And this worry, about what other people might think about me, or the negative reaction they could have over what I've done - has followed me around for as long as I can remember.

When I was in 6th grade, I remember wanting to get into a Science High School after finding out that very smart people go there. I was 10 and I still thought the sun shone out of my ass. Apparently, at our school, the homeroom advisor gets to nominate who could take the entrance exam for it. I wasn't exactly well-liked by ours. I spoke out of turn a lot. I didn't get picked.

During my early years as a Product Manager - I've gotten into a disagreement with my then boss because I set up a user testing session to validate the designs he had our designer do. While I thought I was doing my job, he saw it as me "competing". I got a strongly worded email from him telling me to stop doing things that, for him, oppose his work.

And there are more stories like that but this isn't supposed to be a memoir.

So I learned to adapt. The way I spoke. Polite and always seeking for approval. The way I delivered. Always according to what is required. I learned to just quietly go where and when I'm allowed to go.

Looking back, there were so many things I didn't do because I was afraid of what people might think. Would they disapprove? Would they be disappointed? Or would I just prove them right that I was completely crap at things?

Of course there are days when I would just rebel against all of the worrying.

I sing at Karaokes completely sober. I left ok jobs when they no longer felt challenging for me. And I moved to Barcelona and decided that life is wherever I want it to be.

On those days, the desire to just do - was stronger than the worry that I had of what other people might be thinking.

Over time, I've learned how to manage this complex of mine. I wouldn't be writing this at all, if I didn't.

A few months ago, I held my breath and finally announced in a public platform, that I've recently started coaching Product Managers. And, heart in my throat, I waited for the world to tell me I had no business doing that. The world didn't.

Sometimes, the worry does come back. Sometimes without me even realizing it. But instead of wallowing in that overthinking like I used to, I go through my arsenal of tools that have helped me overcome them.

1. Actively Ask for Feedback

Sometimes the best thing to do is just make the unknown - known. Normalize knowing what other people are thinking instead of just guessing.

So I started asking for feedback. What went well? What could be improved? A framework that didn't allow for unproductive comments.

I've started asking for feedback after a presentation I've done or a workshop I've ran. Or after a meeting where I spent a lot of time arguing with somebody over something.

"That was a well executed workshop. I really learned a lot today. But maybe we can take more breaks in between. By the end of it, I was no longer capable of understanding anything".

"Great presentation! The message was very clear. But it seemed like you were hesitating a lot on the answers you gave to the questions asked afterwards."

My fears of having people tell me that what I did was "just crap" were unfounded. Instead, I received validation, and an opportunity to be better.

My ego was stroked. My confidence grew. And I stopped holding my breath, waiting for a potential fall out.

2. Practice Toeing Your Own Line - What's the Worst Thing That Can Happen?

I started with the little things. Small actions that I was uncomfortable to do even though they were of little consequence. Until I got around to doing things that I thought would cause the world to open up and swallow me whole.

  • I asked stupid questions during meetings.

  • I wrote emails to C-level people to share an opinion.

  • I taught a course to a room of 60+ experienced Product Managers.

For every single action, I would ask myself - "What's the worst thing that can happen?"

I could lose my job? I could ruin my reputation? Nobody would ever want to work with me ever again?

However absurd (for me, at least) I thought my actions were - the worst has never ever happened as a consequence. In fact they always turned out to be quite the opposite.

  • I found myself in engaging conversations during meetings because of the questions I asked.

  • I became part of important discussions in our organization regarding systemic racism because I wrote to our leadership about it.

  • And I started my own coaching endeavor because I realized I that I enjoy doing it.

And through all of this, the world still hasn't ended (knock on wood).

3. Get Yourself Allies

Whenever I slipped and I would find myself overthinking a decision that has yet to be made, or I would revert back to old behaviors of being too timid to make a move - I had people whom I can run to, to help me process what is going on.

When I made it public that I was coaching Product Managers, I ran to Anna Cosic for help to untangle the knots that started forming in my brain.

When I received feedback about my delivery of a presentation that I did - the feedback completely caught me by surprise. So I processed that with my manager.

And when I was stressing out the night before my first conference stint, my partner in crime talked me out of a looming panic attack.

Having an opinion that wasn't coming from the inside of my brain provided me with a more objective point of view. They were always honest with me, but more importantly they were kind. Kinder to me than my own assumptions ever were.

4. Stop Judging Other People

I am a judger. I am not proud of that. But it's the truth.

I am very quick to have an opinion about what other people have said or done. Sometimes they were unkind. Most of the time, they were unproductive.

Granted, I never said any of them out loud, especially to the people who are the subject of my scrutiny. But they were there just the same.

And I realized recently that I was actually projecting. I wasn't just afraid of people thinking I was crap. I was also afraid of being subjected to the same unproductive opining that I was doing towards them.

So I stopped. Of course old habits die hard. And I still have these judge-y thoughts every now and then. But now whenever they happen, I try to formulate them into a constructive feedback. And when I can, I share them.

5. Identify The People Whose Opinions You Really Care About

In this moment, while I'm writing this, I have over 500+ connections on LinkedIn. And 900+ people follow me on both Instagram and Twitter. I'm nowhere near being an influencer, that's for sure; but that's still a shit ton of people whose opinions I could potentially be worried about.

But should I be? Worried, I mean.

More than half of those people probably don't even know my full name. Much less have any time to spare thinking about that one time I mispronounced awry and form an opinion about me from that.

Truth be told, I will never fully be able to stop caring about other people's opinions. It's a habit buried too deep. I'll sooner be able to stop smoking than stop caring.

But I can prioritize. I can prioritize whose opinions I can keep caring about. People who I do not want to disappoint, yes. But also people who I can trust to be give me direct feedback and that their feedback will be valuable. And they are certainly a lot less than 1.400+ people.

So here's what I learned

People rarely think the worst about you. Almost never. And even if they do, there's only a few people really whose opinion will matter to you. And for the people whose opinion you really care about, ask them about it. So you can sleep better at night.

Treat feedback as a gift

is one of the company values we have at Adevinta, where I currently work. The first time I heard it, I thought of it as "feedback is precious" or something dramatic like that.

But then somebody wise asked me "What do you do with the gifts you receive?".

Well, the ones I liked and/or found useful, I keep. The ones that were just going to be clutter, I get rid of.

And he said "Exactly".

So I started wearing that goddamn bikini.

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