One of my (many) quirks is that, for years, I would have random bouts of embarrassment over events years in the past. I would stop and shudder at the memory of an exchange two decades earlier, or I would turn red in the face thinking about something I did or said as a teenager. It’s not unusual to be self-conscious or regret something dorky you’ve done, but I always found it odd that my bouts of embarrassment were not contemporary but focused squarely and solely on the distant past.
I still experience the occasional chagrin over something long ago, but a realization a few years back significantly scaled back this problem for me. I realized no one else cares. No one else remembers the embarrassing thing I said in 1989. No one else shudders when they think about that weird remark I made in 1992. No one wonders how big a dork one needs to be to say or do something like that thing I did in 1994. No one else remembers these things. No one else is bothered. No one cares. At all.
I reached this achingly obvious realization with the help of a little thought experiment. After one of my moments of embarrassment over something long, long ago, I challenged myself to think of an example of something embarrassing someone else did, recent or in the past. I honestly tried to come up with one example, and I couldn’t. Family, friend, or foe, I could not identify a single example. I could think of funny things, sad things, and even some mean things, but nothing embarrassing. Nothing mortifying or scandalously uncool. I even widened my thought experiment to total strangers. Surely I had seen someone fall down an escalator at some point. Walk out of a bathroom with their pants unzipped or a skirt tucked into pantyhose. Still, nothing. Nada. Nyet.
So much of our selves, our identities, exists between our ears. We walk around in our own little worlds, fighting battles no one else knows about. I’m starting to think life is just the process by which we move from one issue to the next in our brains, the outside physical world playing a tiny, albeit meaningful, role. It’s truly freeing when we realize and accept this. When we can accept the fact that, while we are the superstar in our own movie, we are but a bit player in everyone else’s. We can let go of the worries and anxieties about what other’s think, because they’re fighting their own battles, not our own.
I recently heard a fantastic quote: when you’re 20, you’re worried about what others think of you; when you’re 40, you don’t care what others think of you, and when you’re 60, you realize no one else is thinking about you.
I like the idea of getting over yourself. Getting out of your own way. Forgiving yourself for being a silly, crazy, dumb, imperfect person…just like everyone else.