Deep down, everyone wants to present their best self to the world, and preferably at all times. So while I often have the desire to belt out Kander and Ebb's "But the World Goes 'Round," I typically refrain from singing as I walk down my block. Chances are someone is trying to sleep and would want me to... you know, not sing aloud.
In a similar scenario, I find myself annoyed when "headphone singers" come out to play at my gym. I'm sure you've seen and heard them before: the people who are clearly awaiting their Carnegie Hall debut and want all the other weightlifters and treadmill-runners to know what their listening to. Even though I am annoyed, I do not go up and tell them so. I don't want them to think I'm a jerk.
I have a friend, perhaps my best friend, who would not hesitate to tell anyone to stop doing anything that irks her. She's the one who gets the manager if an audience member is talking at the movies. I envy her sometimes, but even after five years of knowing her, all I've managed to pick up from her is a snort when I laugh. I have not taken on a skill that I hope comes with age: the mastery of not caring if people like me.
You might say at first that this is not a bad thing. Being a nice person isn't a bad thing, that is for certain. You should be nice to people- within reason. You should not, though, care if they care.
I would be wholly embarrassed if I were to count the number of times I thought, "what do they think of me?" Whenever I argue with a friend I almost immediately apologize, even if I don't think I should. When I was a teenager, a kid punched me in the gut and said, "Gay!" as if it were the most mortal of sins. My only concern was that others would think the same thing. I thought, at the time, it was the worst thing that I could ever be. Some night we'll have a fireside chat, and I'll go through that whole story of regression with you. For now, we'll talk about how much I just wanted that guy, and everyone else I've ever encountered, to think favorably of me- whatever my definition of that was at the time.
This is not a good quality to have when dating. You become too agreeable, which automatically makes you less interesting. You try too hard, even as you see you're putting in too much effort. Realizing you're coming off bland or, in some cases, too strong, only leads to a feverish, and typically failed, attempt to correct the issue.
In Los Angeles, a city that thrives on false niceties and plastered (and often botoxed) smiles, learning to stop caring is difficult. Everyone pretends in this town of make-believe. They pretend to be successful, they pretend to be well-off, they pretend to be happy. The more you dig, the more you find broken dreams and functional alcoholism. Because LA, like every other corner of the Earth, is filled with humans. We humans want to be liked and accepted by the other humans - even if we ourselves don't like them. We lie to ourselves and others in the pursuit of acceptance.
Those who succeed in tough places don't do so because they worry about what others are thinking about them. They succeed because they learn to stop giving a crap about it.
My friend is happy because she doesn't care what those rule-violating film-goers think. She came to enjoy the movie, and she thinks everyone in the theater should have that opportunity, too. She doesn't care what the loud-mouths think about her.
But I... I still want people to like me. In my quest for personal growth in this dog-eat-dog world I have to reconcile that fragile desire while still managing to be humane to the people who waltz by me on my path.
There are probably a wealth of people who feel I'm, like Bette Davis once described herself, "just too much." There are likely others who would rather I keep walking if I see them on the street. The lesson of the day is that it doesn't matter. They have as little to do with my story as I do with theirs. We can both keep walking toward our own little slice of self-worth and confidence. And the world goes 'round.