“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” ~Coco Chanel “You know, Joui, I really like how you look tonight. I always thought your style before was… just a little wacky,” smiled Harry, a man I’d met during a forced networking meeting. He then smirked knowingly, like he was doing me a great favor. Inside I screamed. As a stylist one of the biggest fears my clients mention when we discuss any big change is feedback, judgment, and shame from their peers. And they are right to be fearful. People will have commentary, trust me. But while everyone has an opinion, not everyone has a clue. So we must be extremely careful who we let give us feedback.
I have made this mistake many times in the past. I let another person’s opinion cloud my own vision without first asking myself whether I even respect that opinion.
Like Harry, somehow just because they are a person with eyes I allow their remark to dig deep into my psyche and contort my energetic field. It feels like watching too many moving images at once. Yes, I am sensitive. One unchecked opinion can cause me to feel ungrounded and unable to think clearly for myself. But ultimately, this is my life. I’m the only one living behind my eyes, so I am the only one who can and should take ownership of my decisions. So in cleansing my life recently I decided to create a set of requisites to better decide whose opinions I will let in. I first came upon the idea in Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. She says that the work that scares us makes us most alive. But the more public and vocal you get, the more vulnerable you can become to outside input.
And so she created criteria for her own feedback “force field,” so to speak. Brown says “If you are not in the arena and also getting your arse kicked, I am not interested in your feedback.”
Let’s get back to Harry, for example. He made this comment during the annual BNI (Business Networking International) holiday party. I was dropping by the BNI holiday party about a year after I ended my membership, mainly for old times sake. It was during a period of my style where I was intentionally letting go of originality and flamboyance to explore different ways of expressing my identity. The night of the party I was in full-blown “mainstream sexy,” a pair of fitted black leggings, a classic pair of black heels, a white sweater, simple earrings. It was part identity experiment and part research project to understand women who enjoy looking this way so I could better support a broader range of style choices. Now it was Harry’s turn to tell me how the flat-ironed, mainstream version of me was so much better than the wacky side he’d seen a year before. And let me just say, from one angle he was right. I looked great. But sometimes looking “great” isn’t the point. In a world of endless options, it’s more important to look like me.
This is why getting your criteria straight for whose input you let in is vital. Otherwise, it is very easy to find yourself waking up one day and not recognizing yourself because you fell into other people’s ideas of who you are instead of your own.
If you are going to allow someone to be a competent mirror for you, here are a few factors I suggest considering.
1. Is this person someone whose life’s work you admire? Is this someone with a promising, positive vision of themselves in the world? Essentially, do you love what they are up to?
2. Do you love the way this individual sees you and who you aspire to be? Are they someone who supports you and inspires you to rise to every opportunity for personal growth?
3. If this person is commenting on style, image, or branding do they have good taste? Do they have taste you admire? Have they mastered aesthetics? According to Brené Brown, are they “in the arena”?
Most importantly, trust most those people that hold you in a warm, accepting light, and have your best interests at heart. So let’s take a moment to reflect on Harry and his opinion of my look.
1. Was Harry the epitome of style? Answer: No.
2. Was Harry the type of person I respected in work, career, life? Answer: No.
3. Was Harry the kind of person I wanted more of in my world? Answer: Once again no.
So how did I interpret Harry’s comment? Well, it did influence me in so far as I had been looking for a moment to stop experimenting in this style. His response to “Mainstream Joui” reminded me I was off.
I needed more flair. I needed to bring back a little Wacky Joui, and fast. I guess this is an example of a reverse influence. You must carefully and consciously select the people who you actively allow to influence you, and whose judgments you take to heart. And remember, if you are a creative, empath, artist, or any type of deeply sensitive being, be on high alert. You may be extremely vulnerable to molding yourself to those around you and what they need. Choosing who you hang around with has the power to make or break you. You are the company you keep.
You are the opinion of those closest to you. Chose wisely.