Here’s a quote from one of my favourite Stoic philosophers, Epictetus:

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.

This fear of being thought foolish lies at the core of that age-old problem of ‘caring what other people think’. We all know that ideally, we shouldn’t care too much about what others think of us. And yet (to use a simple example) most of us are probably not at that point of enlightenment where we can even comfortably stick our hand up in a lecture theatre to ask a question.

Occasionally as part of a Q&A, I get asked a variant of “how did you have the confidence to start a YouTube channel?” And yeah, it’s a pretty nerve-wracking thing to suddenly start filming yourself and sticking it on the internet. But if we think about it, the main fear is this fear of being thought foolish. It’s the fear of 'what will my peers think of me if they find out I’m doing this’.

So how do we overcome this?

Step 1 - Recognise that no one is thinking about us

I came across a great article this week. It explains The Spotlight Effect - ie: the tendency we all have to massively overestimate the amount that others are thinking about us. Everyone is far, far too busy worrying about (a) their own lives, and (b) what others are thinking of them, to even remotely care what we’re doing.

Goes back to another one of my favourite quotes:

We would worry less about what others think of us, if we realized how seldom they do.

Step 2 - Be content to be thought foolish

If ever there was a secret to confidence, it’s this. Epictetus got it right all those thousands of years ago. When we’re content to be thought foolish, this 'fear of what others think’ no longer holds us back.

Of course, developing this impunity to being thought foolish isn’t easy, but in my humble opinion as a wannabe-life-guru, it’s one of the most important skills we can develop. And we can develop it by diversifying our sources of identity, hopefully to the point where our inner sense of self-worth is no longer governed by what others might think of us.

PS: Huge congratulations to everyone who got the exam results they wanted. And thanks for all the lovely post-results day emails and instagram DMs <3

Further Reading

  1. The Spotlight Effect: Why No One Else Remembers What You Did
  2. Diversify your Identity - Mark Manson

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