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Do you worry what people think of you?

Lady covering her face with a piece of paper
Stop hiding!

I was listening to The Psychology Podcast with guest Michael Gervais recently, who has a new book out called "The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying about What People Think of You".

As someone who is seeking to 'master' being an artist, this piqued my interest. And, coincidentally, as someone who does worry about what people think of me, it was a doubly relevant.

In their discussion, Michael explains the difference between a performance-based identity and a purpose-based identity.

The former basically says, if I do well, if I achieve, if I am doing better or as good as my peers, then I'm doing ok. It is based on outside approval. It also means that you're constantly looking over your shoulder at what other people are doing: have they made more sales than me? have they won more awards? are they with more galleries?

The latter is based on inside approval, self-motivation and a belief that what you're doing is contributing to a higher purpose. It's the exploration of topics, of noticing the world around you, of being curious and guiding yourself forward. Not because someone else has said so, but because it's interesting and you think that other people might also find it interesting.

The goal isn't some arbitrary point that someone else has set (big house, nice car, latest clothes) but rather a deeper connection with what matters and what is personally enriching.

This matters today because we are constantly having to adapt and adjust what we're doing in light of new technologies (hello Instagram!). Our jobs are evolving, and it can feel like we're sprinting up the learning curve all the time, just trying to keep up.

One particular thing he mentioned was, that we've chosen to be artists because we don't like to do the same thing all the time, we like to have variety and we like to be constantly learning. So why does it feel different when we're surprised with a new change? I'd imagine it's because the change is dictated by outside influences, and that having to worry about an algorithm shifts us from being within our purpose, to having to worry about our performance.

I have often worried about what other people think about me because I do think differently. I'm often (unintentionally) doing something slightly differently to others around me; perhaps in the way I've interpreted it, or because there's something quite boring about following the rules completely. Sometimes it's an intentional thing; knowing that on a level playing field I'm fairly average, but if I can just tweak it somehow, it can sometimes fall in my favour. Anyway, I digress.

The point is, yes, you need to be aware of how society is (its rules and formalities) so that you don't get socially isolated, but the key is to not let other people's ideas of what's worthwhile and what isn't, dictate your life.

Steve Martin (the comedian and actor) made a point in saying that if he had sought other people's advice on how to go about things, he would never have done what he did (and arguably wouldn't have been successful either). His purpose was to be on stage (he had decided this for himself). How he got there was up to him, seeing what was working for other people and then adapting it to suit his personality.

There's the famous quote from Andy Warhol, “Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Imagine you're an athlete. Your purpose is to be the fastest runner in your chosen discipline - that is your motivation, your goal. You train every day because of it, and you are ok with days when the training doesn't go as well as you'd have liked. However, if you tied your identity up with your performance instead, every race you didn't win would be a sign that you weren't going to reach your goal. You'd be worried about your opponent's fitness and performance rather than your own. You'd only ever run "good enough" and perhaps would miss out on your ultimate potential.

So, just remember: success lies in your ability to be internally motivated, pursuing what interests you and how you feel you can contribute to a higher goal.

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