The older I get the less I care what others think. It’s a freeing feeling, a weightless existence which allows me to make better decisions, to understand what the best decision is for me, and then move forward. A few years ago, I did not have this skill, I was weighed down daily by what others thought or would think.

Why do we allow what others think to influence our decisions so much? Looking back over my life, the pattern started as early as preschool. I wanted the other children to like me, I wanted to be included in their games, so I allowed their thoughts to influence my decisions. As I grew, I wanted my parents to be proud of my schoolwork, to say that I was smart, I worked harder and harder every year. As I grew, what peers thought mattered more, and as I was often the new kid, lacking a history with the group, what they thought mattered even more.

What teachers, bosses, peers and bullies thought of me began to take over. Never a part of the crowd, always the newbie in the group, I developed skills to quickly navigate situations, learn who I needed to know, and then form a relationship with them. This pattern and lifestyle was and is exhausting. As the exhaustion increased, my confidence dropped, and I depended more and more on the opinions of others.

I slowly realized this behavior was toxic and not the behavior I needed to pursue if I wanted to be a good leader, but more importantly, a good parent. Slowly, over time, I got to know myself, I learned who I was, what I liked, what I need, and what I want. I set boundaries, and even when it was challenging, began to enforce these boundaries, to make myself a priority. Making this switch in thought is extremely difficult. It is a continuous balance of understanding when it is important to listen, learn, and grow, and when I am enough. I strive to be an open-minded person, to continuously learn, seek mentorships, and crush any arrogant thoughts I may have while slowly increasing my confidence. The journey has proven to be long and uphill, but I suspect the lessons learned will make me the leader and parent I strive to be.

The question remains, why do we allow what others think to influence us so much? While it is vital we take pride in our work, stretch ourselves, and work with mentors, for the most part we need to learn how to be independent, to not allow the number of likes a photo gets, or the number of followers we have influence our confidence. We need to cultivate the ability to be resilient, to understand hope is something which resides within, as well as the ability to increase that hope, and be more resilient. The power to be who we want, to have all the confidence we need, to have the ability to know we are more than enough lies within.

Perhaps the secret is learning to cultivate our inner self, the person we are when no one is watching. The things which make you unique are your superpowers, the skills and characteristics which will take you farther than you dreamed. We must celebrate self-love, time alone, those who dare to be different, and learn how to be different ourselves. We must learn to first love ourselves, and slowly watch the pieces fall together.

This may be the most arduous journey I have embarked on, there is no road map, the path is all uphill, and the roadblocks, potholes, and missing bridges threaten to knock me down. The idea of being confident enough to withstand the storms drives me on.

I love to hear from my readers. You can reach me at believestrengthpassion@gmail.com.

Sara Orellana-Paape lives in Lawton.

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