I’ve been listening to Marc Maron’s podcast WTF for a few years now, off and on. Not every episode, because the guy interviews people all the time. Just the people that interest me. He’s a great interviewer and always gets people to open up even though you think they might not.
One of the things I have noticed in many of his conversations with celebrity guests of all stripes reinforces a worldview that has only recently come into my orbit. I’m a guy that puts on a decent facade, but underneath, I’m pretty pessimistic and full of self-doubt. I lack confidence. I’m insecure. There, I said it.
I used to be more insecure, more fatalistic. I’m older and have mellowed over time. I came to realize a thing only recently that greatly helped me mellow. And this is the thing that many of his interviews seem to corroborate.
It is this: People are too obsessed with themselves to worry about what you are doing.
Let me explain further.
People with Anxiety often Create their own worst Nightmares
It feels very real, but yes, my worst fears are usually way, way overblown.
Ever get an invitation to an impromptu work meeting and think, “Ok, this is where I get fired. No one told me about this meeting ahead of time, all the sudden it has to happen right now? Its about how terrible of a job I’ve been doing. I’m getting canned right now.” If this has happened to you, then you might also have too much anxiety. Its also called “imposter syndrome.” Heard of it now?
I’ll have an interaction with someone and start to think about all the things they are thinking right after I leave the room. All the negative things they are thinking about me RIGHT NOW — I’m not creative, I’m not a snappy enough dresser, my voice is grating, my personality is just generally annoying. Things like that. I make my own life miserable by focusing my attention and energy on things I only think are happening.
Another thing I do a lot of is project — like a projector playing the darkest noir. If I fear someone will die because I love them and they are important to me, I will think in my head how it will go when they actually die. What will I do next? What will be harder to do? What will I feel like? What will I miss the most? Instead of enjoying the person who is right there and very much alive I am living in some distant future when they no longer are.
I’m dealing with it. I tell my brain to “shut up” a lot. But these kinds of scenarios come easily to me. They take no effort, which is why they are so hard to shut off.
Back to Marc Maron. He interviews many celebrities — actors, musicians, comedians. Many of them — not all — have put themselves into the public spotlight because they crave attention. They need it. Why? Their own insecurities. Anything to live outside of the “now”. Anything to be loved by others. And I remember some of this pretty well. I remember trying to be liked by everyone in high school, even the people that were monsters. As a recent interview with Tony Hale put it —
I didn’t want to go to the monster’s party, I just wanted to be invited to the monster‘s party.
And many of these interviews have this nugget in them… that no matter how much you think people are thinking about you — judging you, focusing on you and your flaws — well, truth is, they are focusing on themselves. Many might even be doing exactly what I would be doing — thinking about me and what I might have thought about them.
It’s a trap to focus on what other people may or may not think about you. It matters very little. (I do believe that some sort of humility is a good thing. Some people’s opinions are valuable, and sometimes we are good people only because of what others might think. I generally think we just give other people’s opinions of ourselves too much weight.)
I’m not saying that famous people are any better than the rest of us. Not at all. But because they are famous, you might be tempted to think they are more confident, or they have more of themselves and the world figured out. They don’t. They are just as insecure as the rest of us. They figured out just as much as the rest of us have. They happen to be on TV and in movies or on record covers. They aren’t actually doing that much better than we are.
Like many of these interviews have concluded, no one has the time to be thinking the things about myself as I give them credit for. Everyone else has their own self-obsession — there is just no room for these complex scenarios that we invent. Relax, start to focus more on what you did well and what you have the power to improve. Don’t sweat the rest.