There are many reasons why some make it to the top, or become successful (however one defines success), and why others simply don’t.
One could blame lack of skills, experience, emotional intelligence, personal motivation; absence of “luck”; losing track of personal values; hubris; and much more. But there is one overarching, and perhaps even surprising reason why many individuals, ordinary people in general don’t succeed at achieving greatness, their dreams or even fail: They care far too much about what others think; too much of their behaviour, actions are determined by how they would be perceived, what others might think, whether or not others or someone would approve – be it a spouse, boss, employees, constituency, children, friends, and yes…even total strangers.
Catherine Constantinides, Executive Director LeadSA tweeted this recently: “The greatest prison people live in, is the fear of what other people might think.”
It is astounding how much of people’s personal behaviour is regulated around this driver – how they dress; whether or not they walk up to a stranger to introduce themselves; whether they assist an old lady in a queue where many are watching; whether they take a risk and go for a business opportunity; whether they raise a sensitive issue in a meeting; whether they make a bold comment, or even a small contribution around the boardroom table. I can go on and on.
Far too often people don’t do something, and then wonder why they didn’t do it. If they are totally honest with themselves they would realise they held back because of a brief thought or even fear of what others might think.
Now look carefully at individuals that are successful, in most cases they care relatively little about what others think of them. They don’t take rejection personally, because they don’t really care about the rejecter’s view of them, so they can sell well. They take risks in life, of which some pay off and some fail, but they have a story to tell. They express their views, at the risk of offending some. They do what they believe to be right or the best under conditions, and this is their driving force, rather than doing what will carry the approval of others.
But here’s the deal, a truth most of us are aware of in some way, but choose to ignore: In general people will never tell you exactly what they think of you. This kind of honesty is extremely rare. A boss, a friend, an employee or anyone whose opinion you care about will never tell you one hundred percent what they think of you. People package what they say, or they say what they think you might like, or they keep quiet, or they try to tell you something in such a watered down way that they might as well say nothing. In short, you don’t really know and will never know exactly what those around you truly think of you.
Therefore, if this is so, why spend so much energy on trying to impress or influence their views about you, as if you will ever find out what it is? It is a colossal waste of extremely precious time! You may as well simply do what you believe to be right; follow your passion; do your best!
Honest feedback that comes to you anonymously via a structured assessment process can be taken more seriously. Other than that, listening to what anyone says about you or what you are doing must not be ignored and can be internalised. However, immediately after, remember the truth that you need not necessarily accept what has been said as doctrine, the full truth. You may adapt slightly, but just stay the course.