Updated on 06.20.11

The People Who Do Matter

Trent Hamm

One of the biggest themes of The Simple Dollar is how you should stop caring what other people think. This is one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done in my life. The less impact that I allow the thoughts of others to have on my own choices, the easier it is to make challenging personal choices that improve my own life, like frugality or taking up an “uncool” hobby or living in a smaller house than I can afford or driving a used car or wearing a pair of beat-up falling-apart sandals.

Of course, it’s easy to look at that phrase and take it to an absurd extreme. Doing that creates its own set of problems. You can’t ignore the thoughts of your children or your spouse. You’re also not well served by ignoring the thoughts of people who have influence in your life.

So where does the maxim of “stop caring what other people think” begin and end?

For one, worrying about the impressions of people you don’t interact with is not a very use of time and an especially poor use of money. If you’re paying hundreds of dollars for clothes so you can impress the person who walks by you on the street, your money is probably misplaced, as is your concern. If you’re hoping that another driver is impressed by your expensive and shiny car, you’re again misplacing your money. People you have no direct interaction with should not concern you at all when it comes to your spending choices. Don’t spend an ounce of yourself worrying about them or their thoughts.

Beyond that, focus on impressing casual acquaintances by the content of your character, not by your possessions. Treat people you actually interact with casually with respect and good humor and they’ll usually respond with the same. If that person is thinking quietly that you’re wearing tacky clothes or driving an old car, who cares? It’s worthwhile to do some basic things to ensure positive interaction here, like bathing and practicing good hygiene, but those basic things benefit you (by preserving your health and helping you with more important encounters).

Again, you shouldn’t spend an ounce of extra energy or a dime of your money on any of these interactions with people you don’t know and people you only casually know. If you want to leave an impression, leave an impression with your character.

The people that matter are the people you’re truly close to and the people who can directly impact your future. Your immediate family. Your closest friends. Your boss. In certain sales positions, your clients might fall into this group. Your mentor(s).

You should care what these people think, not just of you, but of their world. What do they care about? What can you do to alleviate those concerns? In many ways, you are in service to these people, and the best service you can provide is to take care of their problems. You should also value the things that they tell you.

Even for these people, though, the character you show and the skills you provide are far more valuable than the clothes you wear and the items you possess.

Your children might talk about material things they want, but what they really want is quality time with you. I could buy my children all of the toys and games in the world, but the things they actually need for me are time, attention, and love.

The same goes with your partner. A diamond necklace might be a pretty symbol, but strong relationships aren’t built on trinkets. They’re built on time, communication, attention, and love.

Your boss truly cares mostly about you doing your job with the highest level of quality. You might have a dress code, but even that is often relaxed if it means better work output. Your boss certainly doesn’t care what car you drive on your own time or whether you have an iPhone.

These important things aren’t reflected by your possessions. They’re reflected by who you are, how you spend your time, and the work that you do.

Stop caring what other people think is a call to stop wasting your money on things mostly useful in impressing other people. It’s not a good use of energy to worry about impressing people that don’t impact your life, and it’s not your possessions that impress the people that do impact your life.

Your skills, your character, your use of time, your attention, and your love matter far more than your possessions to the people that matter most. As to the rest of the people you bump into, why worry about impressing them with your stuff?

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  1. Gerald says:

    I have to remind myself of this everyday. Most people in my profession are working 10 to 12 hour days and I am working half that. So I definitely feel better when I plug in to this site which is like a support group for me. Thanks Trent.

  2. tentaculistic says:

    That’s it exactly, Trent. Thanks for encapsulating one of the recurring themes that has me coming back to TSD. Right on.

  3. I agree with the sentiment. My favorite line is this:”the character you show and the skills you provide are far more valuable than the clothes you wear and the items you possess.”
    I find, though, that a lot of people get lost in self defining by what they do rather than who they are. Our skill set and what we offer the world is something that we can grow and change but shouldn’t necessarily reflect what others think-even those close to us. It’s too easy to not see your value when you define what you can give to the world by anyone else’s opinion on it.

  4. krantcents says:

    I always put family first! I never regret it because that relationship is the one that is most important to me.

  5. Steven says:

    Sometimes you have to impress other people to get what you want in life…

  6. Chris says:

    I thought this was a great article (because it agrees with me!!!). However, Steven’s comment (#5) reminds me of a time when I switched from driving a Volvo to a cheap car so my husband could drive his favorite car. Someone at work commented about my cheaper ride by saying “I thought you were really someone (when you drove the Volvo) – but now I know you aren’t”. No, it didn’t hurt my feelings – but it did validate what I always suspected about the shallowness of our culture.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I generally agree with this sentiment, but it has to go hand in hand with according other people or situations with the respect or consideration they/it deserve.

    I’ve found, as I travel by air a lot, that dressing conservatively & with some attention to my appearance results in better treatment from the various people I enounter than if I’m in sweats or pj-type bottoms & a tee. And in restaurants, for example, I treat the wait staff with respect and courtesy and, again, dress for the environment. Job interviews would be another situation I can think of where what the other person thinks is important.

  8. lurker carl says:

    Appearance matters.

    Few people will take you seriously enough to discover your true character if you don’t put effort into appearance. Think about first impressions. Would you trust a doctor who looks like a homeless drunk? How about an auto mechanic dressed in a spotless 3 piece suit?

    Paying attention toward your outward appearance is part of appropriate behavior, strangers you interact with in public will judge you initially on your grooming and posture. If your clothes look like you slept in them, bed-head, scruffy and slouch like you’re on the verge of passing out: don’t be offended when you get no respect.

    On the other hand. When your vehicle looks like the body is ready to fall off it’s frame, expect extra attention from the highway patrol.

    I’m expected to dress a certain way at work. The workplace is expected to be kept clean and orderly with the facilities in good repair. When visitors come through unexpectedly, a professional appearance is always presented. Potential customers don’t have to look beyond sloppy employees in a messy environment to wonder if a decent product can be delivered.

    It does matter what strangers think, we live in a small world. You never know when one of those strangers has already judged you, either positively or negatively, based on the times they have already observed you.

  9. almost there says:

    Lurker Carl, yes, the phrase “Dress for success” used to be oft said decades ago. Anyone that deals with the public should know this. I am sure anyone that did any time in the armed forces knew that the best way to succeed was first by their appearance then their proven skills. Of course if you want to dress like “The Dude” in the Big Lebowski movie be my guest. I am appaled by how my fellow passengers dress whilst trveling buy plane.

  10. David says:

    Oh, so am I. The idiots wear belts and boots. This slows down their passage through security by several minutes, because it never occurs to them to take the blasted things off until they reach the front of the queue.

    Still, you do not want to wear any decent clothes when travelling by plane. If you don’t spill your drink all over them, someone else will.

  11. Canan Onat says:

    I agree with the general sentiment. However, I tend to agree more with Lurker Carl on this. Looking decent and well groomed also shows how much respect you have for others. I may be driving an old car but it does not have to be dirty and falling apart. I do not need to wear designer clothes. Simple, inexpensive, clean and well pressed clothing will do just fine. I can use seat covers in my car and keep it clean so that it looks well. Also, there is an added benefit: When you keep your car looking good, you do not resent the fact that you are driving an old car and start thinking of replacing it even though there is no real need for it.

  12. deRuiter says:

    When I was a child, back in the dark ages, “What will the neighbors think?” was a frequent comment when a child or teenager was misbehaving. At that time, in our area, people didn’t move often and what the neighbors thought was important to my parents because the neighbors were almost like family in that you were going to live close to these people, have a relationship with them, in some cases “til death do us part”, more than 60 years later. It isn’t like that any more, I barely know my neighbors to see them, we never exchange a holiday card, and their importance, because they or I may move in a short time, is nil. It’s funny how time changes things!

  13. Carmie says:

    Thank you! I needed to hear this right now. I get so wrapped up in what other people will think sometimes. This was a lovely wake-up call!

  14. gin says:

    Jesus perfected this over 2000 years ago, he spent time with those he loved and spoke the truth with love. He didn’t amass fortune, or seek power he lived simpley and delt out respect and patience with those who had those things. It frees up much of our time when we don’t dwell on the latest and the greatest of anything so we are able to concentrate the what is important in life. We are here for like 5 minutes in the grand scope of time, to spend it happy is the ultimate gift to oneself.

  15. CW says:

    I was raised in a very religious home. However, we were never allowed to wear crosses, because our actions, demeanor, and language used would show others that we were Christians, by our example. When grown, I worked at a place where some of the supervisors would print out some scriptures from the bible and tape them to their office windows. Over time, I found that these very people were dishonest, treated others badly, and cared only about impressing their bosses. Obviously, their ‘advertisements’ (paper scriptures) were false!

  16. Adam P says:

    Trent, your advice is well intentioned and applies to many people, but fails those in the corporate world.

    Ever hear the phrase “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” ? It rings true and flies in the face of this posting. If I show up for work in a nice suit and tie every day, even if I am only required to wear “casual clothes”, I guarantee—rightly or wrongly—I will be perceived by my boss and my boss’s boss to be of a higher calibre and more “officer material” for the company than if I wore wrinkled polos and khaki pants from Old Navy.

    Also, my immediate family is seriously into material things, such as cars: my cousin has an Escalade, my dad has 2 Porsches, brother loves his Acuras…and I drive an 11 year old Oldsmobile Alero despite being able to easily afford a much nicer car (it runs fine and only has 60k miles on it). Yet per your advice, my family is someone I should be trying to impress. Not always, my friend. Not always.

  17. SwingCheese says:

    @deRuiter: It’s funny that you mention this. We have neighbors who have been less than friendly because my husband and father-in-law smoke. The neighbors have made a point of telling us that they were hoping for non-smokers (the previous folks who lived here were also smokers). Well, in this instance, I don’t care what they think. And in fact, they can take a flying leap at themselves for all that I care for their opinions on the issue, and I think they are quite rude for commenting on it. After all, no one is blowing smoke at them, or even near them! A certain amount of courtesy from all is required for the neighborhood to be a pleasant place to live, but there is a limit to how much I will let fear of “what the neighbors might think” dictate my behavior.

  18. Adam P says:

    SwingCheese…I think smoking is abhorrent, but I don’t care if my neighbor smokes as long as the smell doesn’t come into my yard and they don’t litter their butts in the neigborhood. What difference does it make? To each his or her own as long as they don’t tread on me.

  19. Steven says:

    You might think your smoking isn’t anyone else’s business, but for non-smokers, we notice your smoking more than you might think. Even while driving down the interstate in the middle of winter with the windows rolled up, if the person driving in front of me is smoking, I can smell it. Am I going to whine about it? No. But I’m going to pass them first chance I get.

    Your smoking might be noticed by your neighbors, even though you think they might not. I also have neighbors who smoke, and there are times when I have to close the windows in my apartment because I don’t want to be breathing that crap. Now they’re interfering with my quality of life.

  20. Annie says:

    I agree with lurker carl, i think the way you dress shows a lot to your employer and people that meet you. I am turned off to someone that is sloppy and not neat, it makes me think why they don’t want to fix themselves up. What are you working for? a decent life, your kids, your bills, don’t you want to do it with high integrity. I hear this all the time don’t worry about what other people think. I don’t worry about it.
    When i was first recruited from college, my recruiter told me that dressing makes all the difference between you getting a job and someone else. If you dress with no confidence then the person that dresses with confidence will get the job and this is true my friend, don’t try to talk me out of it. Why would an employer hire someone that looks irresponsible that can’t wear decent clothes next to someone that is ambitious and dressed for the part, they deserve to get the job and make more. I worked with several employers and they all feel somewhat similar to this. I don’t think Trent is correct on this becasue he works from home, ofcourse you can dress down at home but when you are in the office it’s inappropriate to dress down. Take your job seriously and be professional.

  21. Johanna says:

    It’s funny that in response to a post that basically says “don’t worry about what total strangers think of you,” a whole bunch of commenters feel the need to tell us what they think of total strangers. Guess what? We don’t care. *They* don’t care. That’s the point.

    I agree – to an extent – that dressing a certain way for work can be appropriate, even if you wouldn’t dress that way at home. And if you don’t have a very strong preference for polos and khakis over three-piece suits, then sure, wear the three-piece suit if you think it’ll pay off. But if I had a job where I was required to present myself in a way that made me really uncomfortable (either physically or emotionally), I’d think seriously about looking for another job. As it is, I’m really glad to work in an office where casual clothing is entirely appropriate.

  22. I agree 100% the same people you subconsciously are seeking approval from by impressing are the same people doing it for others. I found that true confidence comes when you go against the “GroupThink” mentality. i.e caring about what you think the majority of people think about you. Who the Son sets free is free indeed.

  23. SwingCheese says:

    @Steven: I don’t smoke, so I am also very sensitive to the smell. And I realize that yes, the smoke can carry on the wind (though no one in my family litters their butts around the neighborhood – they dispose of them properly). But my husband’s smoking addiction, no matter how distasteful to you, is not a moral failing on his part. And that is what I resented – the implication that we were somehow not on par with them because of smoking. I don’t care if someone smokes or not, but cigarettes are not a barometer of character. (The woman with whom I had this conversation? Her significant other smokes outside, too. So there is also a level of hypocrisy, in my opinion.)

  24. larabara says:

    @8 Lurker Carl said, “When your vehicle looks like the body is ready to fall off it’s frame, expect extra attention from the highway patrol.” I have found that if you are driving any car that brings attention to you, including the expensive Ferraris and other speed/muscle cars, the Highway Patrol will give you some extra attention as well. Here in Southern California, I drive a benign beige vehicle and it’s like I’m invisible. But I see a lot of really high-priced fancy schmancy cars pulled over all the time. Just an observation from a car-crazy part of the U.S.A.

  25. Ralph says:

    I learned this lesson about 8 years ago when I was in my early 20s. Coming from High school and college, the culture revolves around what you peers think of you. It wasn’t until I began to see those very same peers making a mess of their lives did I decide to stop caring what others thought. It was definitely the right decision.

  26. Brittany says:

    @#16 Adam P

    I think you missed the point. The point is to value the opinion of people who matter and to not go out of your way to impress people who don’t. In your life (presumably, based on your post), the opinion of your boss (who Trent put on the “matters” list, for the record), as well as other higher-ups, do matter. Your choice to dress above the requirement is a signal of your drive and dedication. That well falls into what Trent is saying. However, having a super expensive car for the sole purpose of impressing people who see it (not because you can afford it and really want it or because you need it for work, because you’ll be transporting important cilents) is pointless, whether the people you’re trying to impress are family, neighbors, or strangers on the street.

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