No-one is thinking about you, I promise

These days, girls hire their dresses for school formals. PHOTO: GETTY
These days, girls hire their dresses for school formals. PHOTO: GETTY
In the past few weeks, we have been living in a world of school-formal-turmoil. You would think we would be old hands, having had two sons go through the process, but no, yesterday, I found a discarded false-nail in the kitchen and chuckled at the insane preparation required for a daughter to attend a formal — truly next level! Nothing much has changed since my formal days — the hype outweighs the event itself. The photos of my 1990 formal pop up on my Facebook page from time-to-time, and I think back to shopping with my mum and a friend to buy my lovely bronze raw-silk fabric — it does seem to be a coming-of-age moment, for want of a better cliche.

Anyway, we survived my daughter’s formal and as I reflected on the hype, discarded fingernail in hand, I pondered our conflicting desires — the desire to stand out and do things differently, rallying against our desire to fit in with our peers and look the same. Our desire for excitement and change, rallying against our desire to be comfortable and secure. We learn from our experiences, but, as we age, our mindset doesn’t shift as much as we think it does.

It was over two years ago that I decided to create a new business. In making the decision, I battled with the juxtaposition of security and excitement, my biggest handbrake the question — "what will people think of me if I fail?" I thought I was too old to care about what people thought of me. I was wrong. That’s what nearly stopped me from doing something which has huge purpose for me.

These days, girls hire their dresses for school formals. My daughter didn’t want a glamorous ballgown, she wanted a more "beachy look", so for many hours we scoured the dress-hire websites. Quite late in the piece, we found "the dress", to be hired from Auckland. She had no ability to try it on, it was a monumental risk. The dress arrived two days before the event and I was sent a photo with the horrified statement "I look like a mermaid!". Her concern was that the dress was not formal enough, too beachy — it even had shells on it. She would look different from everyone else.

Peer pressure never leaves us, except for a few free-spirited souls. No matter our age, we want to fit in, we want to keep up with the Joneses and we don’t want to imagine others thinking badly of us.

What we forget is, that most people don’t think of us at all and if they do, we are a fleeting thought in their minds, we are yesterday’s fish and chip wrapping, we are a topic of conversation for mere moments. That’s because most people are too busy inside their own heads worrying about what other people think of them — we are the definition of absurdity!

One of the factors which made me take the plunge and get on board the start-up train, was my mother had done something similar at the same stage of life. As a teenager myself, I remember my mum talking about wanting to farm full-time.

She convinced my dad to buy their first property and then to upgrade that to a full commercial farm. People said to me, "we can’t believe your mother is giving up teaching to go farming". To me, it was no big deal. I was too wrapped up in the colour of my crushed silk — never fingernails though. I had been part of the dinner-table conversations and understood that’s what my mother wanted to do. In my mind, why shouldn’t she? What would stop her?

New events and life decisions can be genuinely hard, from dresses to career changes. Sometimes our decisions go wrong; we can learn from that, dust ourselves off and try again. Rationally we understand this.

It’s fair to say, the worst reason for not making change is to be scared of what others will think of you. In these situations, remind yourself, they don’t think of you at all. They are far too busy thinking about themselves and if you do fail, imagine their delight — giving such pleasure should not be underestimated.

 - Anna Campbell is co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company. She also holds various directorships.