How to Worry Less About What Others Think


A few weeks ago, I did something I was quite nervous to do, and had never done before. I booked a weekend break away on my own. Now, this might not sound like a big deal to some, but, to me, it was.

I used to hate being on my own, but now I love it….well, in moderation. At school, no one wanted to be seen alone. There was a worry that people would think you were a loser with no friends (kids are harsh!). Maybe that same anxiety has followed me around since then.

However, in the past five years or so, I’ve worked hard to worry less about what others think of me. I don’t think the worry ever goes away completely. After all, it’s in our genes to concern ourselves with what the larger group thinks of us, to ensure we’re well-liked so we don’t get ostracised and kicked out the pack - and die, as far as our survival instincts are concerned.

So, there I was checking-in to the hotel on my own, dining alone, going to the hotel Spa on my own. You know what happened? Absolutely nothing! The world didn’t end, no one said anything, no one stared at me, no one looked sorry for me. All my assumptions and fears were completely unfounded.

The experience encouraged me to share the below thoughts on what’s started to help me stop worrying so much about what others think, because it holds us back in so many ways. I often hesitate before I do or say things. There’s often a sneaky little voice that pipes up first with, “but what will other people think?” In response, I now try to consider the below, which often helps me cut through the worries, and make an informed choice on what I’m contemplating doing or saying.

I remember this voice influencing my initial thoughts about changing career. I spent two years training to qualify as a Probation Officer, completing a second degree in the process. I’d also made the choice to continue living at home well into my mid-twenties in order to live on the low salary whilst training. Within six months of qualifying, and working in the role, I was desperate to leave. Yet, I found it really hard to explain this to others. It seemed daft when I’d worked so hard to get there. I couldn’t articulate why I wasn’t happy when, on paper, it seemed a worthwhile and 'good' career to have.

On top of that, the alternative career I wanted to pursue (training as a Life Coach to start with) felt wishy washy, a bit 'woo woo', and the industry didn’t have a great reputation (this was 15+ years ago; the robustness of the industry has improved somewhat since then, thankfully). I found talking to my parents about it difficult for fear of what they’d think, especially as I was considering yet further education in the form of a Masters (in order to train as a coach). Would they think I was flaky? That I’d spend that money training and then just ‘give up’ again? I was embarrassed to tell other people I wanted to be a Coach, too. It seemed silly, for some reason.

I regularly hear clients say the exact same phrase that I had running through my head when they’re considering a completely different career, or even the thought of explaining to others why they want to ‘give up’ what sounds like a stable, secure, decent job - “What will other people think?”

And so, here is what I encourage them to consider:

  1. No one really cares.
    It sounds harsh, and your ego won’t like it, but we need to remember that everyone else is far too busy worrying what you think of them (in the same way you are), absorbed in their own worlds and thoughts, to spend more than a few seconds concerning themselves with what you’re doing. When you judge someone negatively, how long does that thought last? Not long. We move on so quickly, and no one really cares after five minutes, let alone five years.

    Of course, there are some that hold onto those negative judgements, but, often, they're hurting so badly themselves that there's not much you can do about that. Their negative opinions are often so heavily influenced by their own fears and past pain that it's usually very little to do with you in the first place, so there's very little point worrying about what they think.

  2. Give others more credit.
    Deep down, I believe that, at the end of the day, most people just want you to be happy, and for you to do what’s best for you. If they knew you were holding back, staying in a career you didn't enjoy, or doing things you didn't want to do, just to please them, they’d be mortified. Most people are kind, helpful, and supportive. Try to give them credit where it's due.

  3. Accept you can’t control what others think.
    There is absolutely no point curating a lie or denying yourself of what you want, just to please others. If anything it makes the relationship more shaky in the long run, because it’s built on inauthentic foundations. You’ll end up feeling like you can’t be yourself around them. Letting go of the need and desire to try and curate/control what others think can be life changing. As I said above, what they think of you often has very little to do with you in the first place, which is why it’s a doubly futile pursuit. For example, when we judge someone, if we’re really honest, it’s because they’ve triggered an insecurity or fear in us somewhere. It’s rarely to do with the other person. This can help us to further realise that there’s very little need or point in trying to control how we’re seen by others, because there’s just no way you can control how they’ll see you when a lot of it is due to their own unique background and life experiences.

  4. Zoom out and get some perspective.
    I was on a plane recently and the view always helps remind me of how big the world really is, and how small we all are as individuals. Zoom out even further and you realise even our world is tiny in proportion to the rest of the Universe and the rest of Space. We really are just a planet in the middle of nowhere. With this in mind, does it really matter what other people think? Hell no! In the grand scheme of things, when you’re well in to your 90’s (hopefully), will it really matter what people thought of you at any given time? I doubt it. If anything, I think you’ll regret the time you spent worrying about it, and the things you didn’t do or say because of your fear of it.

  5. Acknowledge why it happens in the first place.
    We, as humans, are a threat species. As mentioned above, our brains are designed to seek out risk and danger, and that includes how we’re perceived by others, because, back in the day, we didn’t survive long if we were cast out by the tribe/pack/group. When you realise that this is why you’re worrying about what others think, you can reassure yourself that there’s nothing really to worry about or fear. You won’t die or be ostracised - and even if you are, which is highly unlikely, you’ll survive. In this day and age, you can always find a new tribe.

I hope some of these points help you worry less about what others think of you, and that they help you continue with your career change in some way.

Do get in touch if you'd like to discuss working together on your career change. Thank you.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.