Photo: Ann Cutting
Maybe you're one of those self-assured people who've never given a hoot what anyone thinks of them. If so, you also probably set fires and hurt small animals, because you are a psychopath. Please go away. No offense—it's not that I don't want you here. It's just...wait a second. Actually, it is that I don't want you here! Go right ahead and take offense! Decide that I'm a priggish bitch! I can handle it, because I've internalized the wisdom phrased so cogently by Socrates, or maybe it was LL Cool J: How others judge me is none of my business.

This statement's plain common sense brooks no denial. Since you can't control other people's thoughts, and since neither people nor their thoughts are perfect, there's no point in living life based on your fantasies of other people's fantasies about you. Got it? Excellent. I'd stop right now, except for one thing: Emotionally, we nonpsychopaths are built to care what others think of us. It's part of our social-primate biology. Our brains are like those surgical theaters with glassed-in observatories. We operate under the constant scrutiny of an imaginary audience. Sociologists call this audience our "generalized other." Some generalized others give us a daily dose of support and inspiration; some can be witheringly cruel. Sadly, even if yours is flat-out evil, you can't just will yourself to be indifferent to it. Happily, I've found a way to get it out of your mental business.

Your Everybody Committee

Your generalized other is actually based on a mental magnification of just a few people, often the most judgmental people you know. To see what I mean, complete each of the following sentences with the first thing that pops into your mind:

"Everyone wants me to ___________________________."

"Everyone thinks I'm ___________________________."

"Everyone expects me to ___________________________."

"Everyone's always telling me ___________________________."

Now, for each sentence, think of real people who have told you—not indirectly or by implication, but in so many words—that they hold the thoughts and opinions you just listed. These people are part of your generalized other, or as I like to call them, your Everybody Committee. After coaching hundreds of folks through this exercise, I believe most of us have very small committees—often just one individual, almost never more than six. Yet we subconsciously project their opinions onto the entire global population.

Your vague, unconscious guesstimate of your Everybody Committee's opinions affects your every move. When you hate on your hair or dread speaking in public, you're anticipating your committee's judgment. If you wouldn't be caught dead without your Rolex and false eyelashes, it's because that's what your committee approves. If you consider yourself a rebellious nonconformist, you continually refer to your committee so you can be sure to shock them. (Can you say "irony"?)

Most of us assemble our Everybody Committees haphazardly, especially during childhood. We tend to give the best seats to the cruelest people—people who hurt our feelings and undermine our dreams. To avoid attacks from these pernicious trolls, we obsess about living up to their standards. This is a terrible way to live.

What Stinks About Having the Wrong Everybody Committee

I speak from experience. Much of my life has been dominated by Everybody Committees that were totally misaligned with my true self. As a result, I did things that held no joy for me, never felt I was good enough, and believed that if people knew who I really was, they'd hate me. Sound familiar? You, too, may live in fear of being rejected by your Everybody Committee if you set out to live your best life. And you know what? Your fear is well-founded.

Each time I've chosen to live more authentically, I've been roundly rejected by my Everybody Committees. There's my old Religious Committee, who will gladly tell you I'm going straight to hell; the Intellectual Committee, who believe I'm a delusional moron; and the Classy Materialist Committee, who cannot believe I wear a plastic watch from Target in publicity photos. All these folks are still alive and kicking (kicking people who don't share their values), yet every cell of me knows that what they think of me is none of my business.

How can I be so blithe about being judged by people whose judgments I once bowed before? Because I have a new Everybody Committee. Today my mental operating theater is filled with people so kind and caring they make Pollyanna look like a total shrew, but so sharp and funny, they won't let me get away with a minute's whining. Am I the luckiest person on Earth to have such a committee? No. I'm insanely blessed, but luck had nothing to do with it. I installed my awesome Everybody Committee through deliberate, concerted effort. And you can do the same.

Next: How to appoint the right everybody committee