I was 14 years old, navigating the murky waters of adolescent insecurity. I was walking into school one morning, lost in my thoughts about the boy I liked and the girls whose good side I hoped I would still be on that day. (Remember those fickle years?)
Then I glimpsed down at my feet and gasped: Holy sh*t! I was wearing mismatched shoes. It was too late to go home and change. What was I going to do?
I could tell everyone and bring attention to it first, making a joke of it. Or maybe I could try and make it a fashion statement. (Yeah, right!)
But I made an alternative decision. The shoes were similar enough (or so I told myself), so I wouldn't say anything at all. Nervously, I decided to treat it like a little experiment. If anyone happened to notice, I'd act surprised.
It's All Small Stuff
How often do little mess-ups like this happen to you? You forget a friend’s birthday. Or forget to invite a friend to your birthday celebration. You have a blemish that you think consumes your entire face. You slip up in a presentation and freeze for a second. Your boss asks a question, and you don’t know the answer. You gain a couple of pounds on vacation and think everyone can tell. Your manicure chips right before walking into a job interview.
This list can go on and on.
But here’s the thing: People are way too obsessed with their own lives—their appearance, performance, the number of freakin’ likes on their Instagram posts—to take stock of or judge what you are doing.
Many people spend years living in fear of how others perceive them when the truth is, other people simply don’t care.
Everybody is busy starring in his or her own movie. They are not scrutinizing your role as an extra. And sadly, many people spend years living in fear of how others perceive them when the truth is, other people simply don’t care. Cue: huge exhale!
This is also one of the deepest joys of moving into my 30s. My thoughts have shifted from, “Hmm, does that person like me?” to “Hmm, do I like myself?” or “Hmm, do I even like that person?”
The fact is, despite small blunders (which can feel like massive errors in our overactive minds), you can still choose to be an empowered human or disempowered victim. And the world will respond accordingly.
The Test of Time
Still sweating the small stuff? Here’s my number one rule to keep in mind: Ask yourself, “Will I care about—or even remember—this in six months' time?”
If something is worrying you right now, stop and think: It’s April. Will today's concern matter in October?
Will I care about—or even remember—this in six months' time?
My guess: hell no! (And trust me, 99 percent of what we worry about is absolute nonsense.) It will be a blip in your memory you probably won't be able to recall, even if pressed. Test this theory: Can you remember what you were worrying about six months ago on this exact date?
My guess again: absolutely not. And if not, why worry now?
The best part is that asking yourself this question reframes what matters most in your life: your work. Your health. Your financial responsibilities. Your closest relationships. These things count. Invest in them rather than worry about what someone said, if you said the wrong thing, or why someone didn’t text you back.
Also remember: Most minor slip-ups (which are the vast majority of mistakes) can benefit us by teaching us something. There is no such thing as a life without mistakes, so take something useful from each mishap if you can.
If you messed up a presentation, spend 10 more minutes prepping next time. Anticipate your boss’s needs in advance of the next meeting. Go for clear polish before your next interview. Keep your shoes in order in your closet!
And hey—if you don’t, that’s OK too.
Life is not about avoiding mistakes. It’s about learning to let go of the stress and BS we feed ourselves about our worth when life does not go 100 percent according to plan.
And if you find yourself truly sweating what other people say, do, or feel, keep in mind this universal truth: It’s not you—it’s them.
When we relax, stay true to ourselves, and yes, maybe even make mistakes (shudder), only then can the best version of ourselves begin to surface. You’ll be lighter and more carefree. You’ll live from the heart, from the inside out. As David Foster Wallace puts it, “You’ll worry less about what people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering: Nobody noticed my wonky shoes that morning. I felt like the world gave me a little wink and a nudge forward that day, letting me in on this universal secret. And it’s too important a secret to keep in the (shoe) closet!
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for her free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!