Growing up I often heard the phrase “You shouldn’t care so much.”
Derivatives of this idea included: So what if they’re talking about you. Who cares what they think? He’s a jerk; why do you care about him? You’re your own person; why do you care about what she’s doing?
I associated the word “care” with stress, because in all these instances, caring meant feeling bad.
It meant being overly worried about someone’s opinion of me, or feeling for someone who didn’t feel for me, or thinking someone was somehow better than me.
I frequently responded, “What kind of person would I be if I didn’t care?”
I also argued that not caring could be a limiting choice.
Sometimes someone else’s criticism contains a valuable lesson. Sometimes someone who seems like a jerk really needs someone to take a chance on him (or her). Sometimes someone else’s choices help us illuminate the path we really want to take.
If we decide to stop caring in all instances that might push and challenge us, we risk closing ourselves off to insights, relationships, and ideas that could change our lives for the better—and potentially do the same for others.
I’ve since realized that the real message isn’t to stop caring, but instead to recognize how we care and why so that we don’t give our power away.
Sometimes we care with love; sometimes we care with fear. Sometimes we care with self-respect; sometimes we care with self-contempt. Sometimes we care with a sense of possibility; sometimes we care with fears of inferiority.
The important thing is that we don’t let caring about people or circumstances detract from our ability to care for ourselves.
A friend of mine recently told me she’s stopped caring about what people expect of her. Knowing that she values those relationships, I concluded that she really meant she stopped stressing about how well she met their expectations.
She essentially decided to stop worrying about things outside her control, and focus instead on all the things that were within her power.
That’s what it means to care for ourselves: to do our best and celebrate that, even as we keep learning and growing.
Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions.