‘Beware of FOPO’

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22nd June 2024

If you want to be your best and perform at a high level, is the ‘Fear of people’s opinions’ holding you back?

Think about a time when you were extremely anxious — say, before standing up to publicly speak, raising your hand in a big meeting, or even walking through a room of strangers. The reason you felt small, scared & tense is you were worried about social disapproval.

Our fear of other people’s opinions, or FOPO has become an irrational & unproductive obsession in the modern world & its negative effects reach far beyond performance.

I am reminded here of a favourite fable I read many years ago & The tremendous life lesson it offers.

A man and his son were going with their donkey to market.

As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the man ordered his boy to get off and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

So the man took his boy up with him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the people began to jeer and point at them: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey?”

So the man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought & thought, till at last, they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole & the donkey to their shoulders.

They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to a bridge when the donkey kicked loose, fell over the side, and drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none.”

It’s natural to seek advice before making a big decision, but you should be careful that you’re not excessively worrying about other people’s opinions so much that you aren’t making the right choices for yourself.

But FOPO, ‘Fear of people’s opinions,’ can constrict your potential and prevent you from doing what you are capable of doing.

At every step in your journey, there will be people who feel the need to voice their opinion on your actions and vision:

They’ll say it makes no sense,

They’ll laugh that you’re on the wrong path,

They’ll tell you to be more realistic,

They’ll question your every move,

But remember the lesson of the fable: If you listen to everyone—if you try to please everyone—you will please no one.

As Lao Tzu said, “care about what other people think & you will always be their prisoner.”

Remove the shackles,

Stop worrying about what others think, be yourself & live according to your values & stay blessed forever.