Life is not a popularity contest

Run for your life – or someone else’s.

I am guessing that somewhere in our genetic makeup there is an innate need to be liked by other people. Maybe many millennia ago when we were cavemen living in tribes it was useful to have as many people like us – and therefore protect us – as possible. I don’t know about you, but the teenage dream of being popular always eluded me. I remember back in Year Nine getting so close to being admitted into the ‘Trendy Group” but never quite making the cut.  If only Mum had bought me those Levi 501’s… so close!  That was the first time I really remember being ‘judged’, and it felt horrible. You would have thought that by the time I got to 37 I would have stopped worrying about stuff like that, and while I’m no longer applying for membership to the cool group, I still sometimes get that nervousness about what people think of me. I wonder if they think I’m smart, or pretty, or interesting, and ultimately whether they like me, and if not what’s wrong with me. Strangely, it was only after signing up for the Mother’s Day Classic recently I got to thinking – so bloody what if ‘they’ like me?

Fun runs, marathons, and other endurance races are your classic comfort zone challenges. And when I signed up for the run I was seriously wondering whether I had bitten off more than I could chew having hyperventilated my way through only 2km a couple of days before. Another reason I signed up was because I’d met a bunch of great new people who I wanted to get to know better – but neither of those factors were the lesson that I had to learn from this experience. You see the catch with signing up was that my team were also trying to raise money for charity – which is where I really started to feel outside of my comfort zone. I know this might sound strange to you, but remember that comfort zone challenges really are a personal thing, so what seems routine to one person can be someone else’s hell.

The thing that I really struggled with was the idea of asking people for money. Granted, the money wasn’t even for me, in fact it was for an amazing charity called One Girl, that funds education for girls in Africa*, a cause that I wholeheartedly support. But before I even asked anyone to sponsor me I felt the searing pain of rejection, the fear of finding out that no one likes me enough to sponsor me. My fear of not being ‘popular enough’ was about to be proven right…. Sort of like having a party and no one turning up (it’s a real fear people!).

So I did the comfortable thing and I procrastinated. I kept training of course, running further each week, and also kept in touch with the other girls to see how they were going. But whenever there was a mention of the sponsorship and how everyone’s fundraising was going I went suspiciously quiet. Then I made excuses, convincing myself that I couldn’t work out how to set up the sponsorship page, or that it wasn’t linked to my registration so it wouldn’t count. It was the adult equivalent of ‘The dog ate my homework.”

As the race drew closer, I admitted to the other girls that the idea of putting myself out there and asking for sponsorship really scared me. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. After that I decided that I needed to face up to this fear and just push through it. So less than a week before the race I started my sponsorship page and posted it to Facebook. And guess what? The world did NOT end. Some people sponsored me, some people didn’t. But that was ok. It got me thinking about all this ‘judgement’ that I was afraid of. The thing about judgement is that you can’t actually feel it. It can’t hurt you. The only thing that can hurt you is your own feelings of inadequacy making up stories about what you think other people are thinking or saying about you.

I suspect that when I posted my call for sponsorship no one made their decision to sponsor me based on whether they actually like me. I am guessing the thought processes were probably less ‘me’ focused and more ‘them’ focused, i.e. Can I afford to? Is this a cause I agree with? What am I going to make for dinner? You get the point. The fact is that as a result of this ridiculous insecurity I was putting myself at the centre of everything. And the problem with that is that it closes you off from what is truly important – like the fact that 66 million girls around the world are not in school either because they don’t have access to schools, their families can’t afford it or they are not allowed to attend simply because they are female.   And when you start focusing outwards you realise that you have the power to make a difference. Personally, by putting myself out there I raised nearly $400 (and collectively our team paid for 12 girls to be educated), gave me a sense of purpose and gave me a chance to connect with people in a new way. I started to get really excited that I was part of something – something bigger and more important than my insecurities and first world problems.

I realise now that worrying about being judged doesn’t make people like us more. As far as I can tell, the only thing it does is stops us from doing things that could potentially make our lives better, more meaningful and possibly even change other people’s lives for the better. I wonder how many world-changing ideas or projects have been left to die because of a (misguided) fear of being judged. As long as you are living according to your highest values, forget about what other people think about you, because in the end ‘The people that matter don’t mind, and the people that mind don’t matter”.

Love (your friend) Jane xx

*If you’re interested in checking out this amazing charity, visit www.onegirl.org.au

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