Updated on 04.26.10

Who Judges You?

Trent Hamm

We’re all constantly being judged. People glance at us and form opinions about us. Our friends, our family, our vaguest associates all have ideas of what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Often, those opinions are made very clear to us – sometimes directly (when they tell us their thoughts about what we’re doing) or indirectly (when their actions and less-direct comments show us what they’re thinking).

When we were all younger – think of high school, for example – these judgments often were the end of the world for us. The social judgments of the people in our school. The judgements of our teachers indicating whether we were smart and worthy or not. The judgments of our parents. The judgments of popular culture telling us what was cool and what was un-cool.

As we got older, we “outgrew” most of these but we often replaced them with other judgments. Our bosses. Our family and our close circle of friends. The people around us – think about the endless “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon.

Here’s the thing, though.

A lot of the people who judge you will never be pleased with you, no matter what you do. It will never, ever be enough. You can be a millionaire with a great career and it won’t be enough. You can have the perfect house and the perfect car and the perfect family and it will never be enough. There will always be something with which they can bring you down and reassert their sense of superiority.

Guess what? Their opinions do not matter. Not one little bit. If you waste even one second of your life trying to please such people, that’s a second you’ll never get value from and never get back.

At the same time, there’s a lot of people you might think have judged you in some way, but they really haven’t. Almost always, it’s your feelings about yourself reflected back onto you. If you don’t like some aspect of yourself, it’s easy to tell yourself that the people you meet don’t like that aspect of you, either.

The only use for these “opinions” is as a guide to how you feel about yourself.

In the end, the only opinions that really matter are your own opinions and the opinions of a very small and select group of people who know the full situation and whose opinions you’ve actually decided to care about. Everyone else? Not so much.

Drive an old car because it gets you from point A to point B the cheapest.
Use a very basic cell phone so you don’t have to pay extra for the phone or the data plan.
Live in a tiny apartment while you’re working at a low-paying but career-building job.
Work towards debt freedom instead of facing endless credit card and loan bills, even if it means not having the shiny new thing.
Throw your television out the window and read in the evenings.
Join a community group that all of your old “friends” would have made fun of you for joining.
Spend an hour jumping on a trampoline with your five year old nephew because you love spending time with him.

In the end, the only opinions that really matter are your own and those close people around you who know you and understand why you’re making the choices you’re making. Everyone else? Forget about them.

In the end, you’re the only person living your life and only a small handful of people have a significant impact on your life. The rest of them can take their opinions and their judgments elsewhere.

Focus on what you’d like to accomplish in your own life. Right now, what one thing would you most like to accomplish in your life? Don’t worry abut what anyone else thinks or says or wants from you. What do you want from your life?

That’s the very thing you should be spending your energies on. Keep it front and center, do the unexpected to get there, and ignore the naysayers.

(Of course, this isn’t saying that you shouldn’t try to make a positive first impression on people. However, being clean and being friendly will actually take care of 90% of a first impression.)

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  1. Skeemer118 says:

    I actually looked someone in the eyes once & said, “Your opinion does not matter to me.” The look on their face was cartoon-ish surprise. It was shocking for them to hear it. But it gave me great freedom in the relationship & at that point I could have sworn I heard my backbone grow a little. I do not care what people think. But I care very much what QUALITY people with wise counsel think & believe. Great post Trent.

  2. T'Pol says:

    Nice post Trent. It made me think of myself judging others… I sometimes get frustrated with friends or family members because they are not acting as I would. Agonizing over what others should do is also a loss of time. Your post is an eye opener. I will try not to judge and criticize others as much as I can from now on. But again, it is human nature… Well, let’s say I’ll do my best!

  3. Hope D says:

    I really liked this post. It is very timely for me. I agree you will never be able to please some people.

  4. Jackie says:

    Nice post. I’m thinking about the idea that what we see as judgments from others are actually our own ideas. Especially relevant since so many times on the site and others like it I get confused when people feel they are being judged by their cars or big houses or latest gadgets. It would never occur to me that people are judging me on those things and I always wondered if it was just a function of regional culture or choice of friends. Makes more sense to think it is just what people are thinking about themselves and are mistakenly assuming that they are being judged.
    Now I’m wondering about the things that I do worry about being judged on (personal appearance is my big worry). How much of that is a reflection of me? Probably a lot.

  5. Des says:

    I agree, if we’re talking in terms of self-esteem. In that case, yes, your own opinion and a few close friends are all that matter. But from a practical perspective people’s opinions DO matter very much. If your boss thinks you are a slacker, you won’t get the promotion you want. If Americans think badly of you, you won’t get to be the President. If your kids think you are bad with money, they won’t take your financial advice. It’s not healthy to agonize over opinions you can’t change, but it is specious and naive to say that the opinions of others never matter.

  6. cathleen says:

    My dad used to say
    “You wouldn’t care what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did”

    I choose not to hang out with people who are dogmatic and judgmental. Makes for a happy life.

  7. The real question is this: Are these people *really* judging us or is our insecurity creating the perception that they are judging us?

    I was trying to find a quote and realized it had already been posted above(I love this board)!!!

    “You wouldn’t care what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did.”

  8. Pattie, RN says:

    Excellent post, Trent. I do believe that we have to be socially acceptable enought to make a living and have some friends, but as to the rest….you are correct. I have to worry about what my Creator thinks about me, and to a lesser extent my dearest hubby, but other than that???

    I love Skeemer’s “line”…I have someone in my life who I am now waiting to use the (modified) question of “What makes you think for a moment that I care at all about YOUR opinion?”

  9. Awesome – this is a lesson I think we all need to remind ourselves of from time-to-time. I’ve had an especially hard time of it in the past, but I moved in to ‘bittertown’ and then finally, on to ‘secureville’. :-)
    It’s funny how I just spent some time today reading through past posts and all the dis-agreement and postings about ‘how could you be so condescending of my lifestyle’ – now I have to wonder how much of those dissenting comments were based on how folks really feel about their own life choices?

  10. Chuckles says:

    I always tell my employees,

    What other people think of you is none of your business.

  11. Clayton says:

    I think a lot of our motivation to please other comes from a fundamental desire to “be happy through service” From wanting to hear your parents say they are proud of you to your mate or boss doing the same thing, we are constantly looking for happiness and acceptance. God put this desire in us, but for him and not for people.

    People will never be happy and you can’t live your life with people as the one approving of you. Each one of us is more valuable than all the animals on the planet put together. So be confident in yourself and know that you don’t need to make people happy to start with.
    great post.

  12. deRuiter says:

    “it is specious and naive to say that the opinions of others never matter.” Nicely put. We are all judgmental, all the time. Every day, each of us is judgmental (faced with snap choices we must make) all day long. You must make choices / judgments for yourself. “It’s my call, should I sleep in and not phone work or should I get dressed, get to the office and do my work?” Should I park in the handicap spot and risk a ticket because I’m only going in for 5 minutes?” or “Should I eat junk food because it’s close by or bring my lunch which is healthier and cheaper but more time consuming?” or, “Should I hang out with the guys on the street corner talking trash, pushing and shoving each other, egging each other on to street crime, or go to the library and do my homework for school tomorrow? How about, “Will associating with someone who looks like that, acts like that, speaks like that, behaves like that, help me achieve success in life or make me a failure?” Success / failure in life is 90% making the right judgment call, whether it is a call about with whom we spend time, how we spend time, whether being with certain people will inspire us to achieve or to fail. People look at others and make judgment calls all day long. SOMETIMES THE CALLS ARE CORRECT. A person can’t be constantly obsessing over whether others like him, it’s a waste of time. I tend to be interested in the opinions (not necessarily the advice) of successful, attractive people. AN OPINION IS SOMEONE’S IDEA, IT IS DIFFERENT FROM ADVICE WHICH PEOPLE EXPECT YOU TO TAKE. The person who wrote, “I actually looked someone in the eyes once & said, “Your opinion does not matter to me.” insulted another person needlessly. It is pleasant and tactful to say, “Thanks for your ideas, I’ll think about it.” unless you want to sound boorish and uncultured. Remember, opinions are a persons ideas, ADVICE is their telling you what they think you ought to do. SOMETIMES PEOPLE HAVE REALLY GREAT, WORKABLE IDEAS, IF YOU LISTEN TO THEM WITHOUT BEING ON THE DEFENSIVE ALL THE TIME. A lot of people are right a lot of the time.

  13. The easiest, and hardest way to answer this question is:

    “Who cares?”

    Its the easiest thing to say but probably the hardest thing to do–to not care what other people think about you.

    I do not think we could ever get ourselves to completely not care what anyone thinks of you (of course, excluding family and loved ones), but the closer you can get to that point, the better of you’ll be.

    Identify people in your life whose opinion does not matter, and, slowly but surely, cut them from that list.

    You’ll be better off without them

  14. Jenny says:

    My in-laws constantly criticize how little my spouse and I make compared to their other adult children. This has spilled over into how they treat the grandkids. We are ranked by our incomes. We do not covet more money, but they just can’t accept that. We dread every family get together, which is full of not too subtle comments.

  15. Kevin says:

    Quite similar to Seth Godin’s post from last Saturday: http://is.gd/bJHsL

  16. Steffie says:

    Unfortunately people judge you by the company you keep. I’ve been trying to get this across to my 16yr old son. He has a few ‘friends’ that I don’t think are ‘good’ for him. They are disrespectful and don’t do well in school. Yes, I judge them but I have to have my son’s best interest in mind. And I don’t have any influence on these boys so I can’t mentor them, show them the better way etc. The best I can do is give my son other options on which to spend his time.

  17. triLcat says:

    The question is who is judging you and what does their judgment mean. If your boss thinks that you don’t dress professionally, then you may miss out on promotions, be fired, etc.

    If you need a new suit or dress for every social occasion so that your friends won’t ever see you in the same clothes twice, then you need to get over your friends and yourself.

    If you are a real estate agent who takes clients around in your car, then your car is essentially job equipment, and if it’s not nice enough, that may reduce your efficacy at your job.

    If you are a mom who is going to pick up her kids from school and you drive a station wagon or sedan instead of a minivan or an SUV, then the fact that other moms might think you’re less wealthy or fancy shouldn’t bother you.

  18. Brad says:

    I like the simplistic message of this post. I am glad that I do not pursue money all of the time. There are lots of things in life that do not involve the pursuit of money. Faith, love, integrity, commitment to family or Someone larger than myself make a lot of sense. Career services professionals, those who advise others about potential careers always suggest pursuing careers that you like and are good at doing. In other words, if I had followed a career path which only involved the pursuit of money, I would have been frustrated, unhappy and probably unsuccessful. I was not good at, and did not enjoy, programming computers or understanding the intricacies of financial markets….

  19. getagrip says:

    The list of things being judged on presented at the end of the article doesn’t include the things that frugality can bring and being judged the other way like:

    Spending on that exotic vacation and getting all the extras you really wanted to make the trip memorable.

    Going out to a really nice restaurant for special or not so special occasions.

    Buying that new McMansion and adding the 3D TV, that new car, that new living room set, etc. to it.

    If the point of being frugal is to be able to spend your money in areas that give you value and joy while meeting your other financially responsible goals, then we all need to watch our judgements on people who find value in things we may find excessive. Just because a lot of folks got tanked because of the housing bubble and crises, more people didn’t or this country would be in total chaos. To me the Jones’ are doing fine, it’s those trying to fake it that have the problem.

  20. Sandy L says:

    I like this post.

    To add to it, I’d like to say that there are people who read between the lines and read things that aren’t really there. Sometimes people are so egocentric that they believe that everything a person says is somehow about them.

    I had a friend who once said “cats are therapeutic” to someone with 3 cats. The cat lady interpreted that comment as “this girl thinks I’m crazy.”

    I do think it’s good to ask for feedback on how you’re perceived by others especially at work. Not everyone is self aware and sometimes someone’s self perception is much different than reality.

  21. Gretchen says:

    Perhaps you shouldn’t judge the newer car driver- they might be paying more, but for a safer/etc choice.

    I do agree that the opinions of some people don’t matter and, more importantly, they aren’t being made as much as you think.

  22. subramanyam says:


    i have done a story on my blog – and am questioning why give away the ‘right’ to judge us? as well as who sets the criteria? A caveman needed a big cave and a fast horse. Why should my ‘judges’ decide how long should be my car or how many bedrooms my house should have or how many stickers should my suitcase have? I hate a big house, hate driving (ride a bicycle), and prefer leisure travel to business travel. LOL.

  23. Kristine says:

    Great post. I think it can be resourceful to value the opinion of others AND to value your own.

    For example, if you are learning a new skill, like marketing, it is helpful to ask the opinion of an expert in that area to see if you are doing it right.

    However, if you are an expert at doing something, say website development, you already know and don’t need to validate your expertise. :)

  24. Jane says:

    This is a very interesting topic.

    In fact, there are warnings in the Bible about judging others lest you set yourself up as a judge. (and face heavier judgment in the end yourself.

    Your article is mainly about not letting the judging of others bother you..and continue to move to the beat of your own drum, so to speak, despite what others may say, because, really only we know whats good for us, right? (well that’s mostly true) That’s good….

    But how many ask themselves if THEY judge others? If everyone held themselves up to the standards they are judging OTHERS by, this would probably be a much nicer, better place to live.

    I think that until WE stop judging others, others will continue to judge us.

  25. Katia says:

    To #13 Jenny…that is too bad that your inlaws are such small people that they treat you poorly because of your income. Makes me wonder what their childhood was like…my mother-in-law was raised in an abusive home and it was difficult for her to show affection to her children and grandchildren. She tended to favor the ones that were ‘poorer’ because I think she could relate to them. But in your case it makes no sense of why they would treat the grandchildren differently just because of the income amount. You have my sympathy. I hope you are happy with your lives!

    To #14 Steffie…my daughter didn’t always choose the best of friends either and I would tell her that she will be known by the company she kept. I would point out various articles in the local newspaper where people were ‘guilty by association.’ But I also made our house a great ‘hangout’ so that when these friends came over, I could influence them…talking positively about how decisions they make now will affect their futures; how fighting will only lead to more troubles and be the bigger man and just walk away and say ‘it’s not worth it.’ etc. There are always teachable moments and you never know…just showing them that you care CAN make a difference in their life! I just loved them for who they were, talked to them whenever I saw them, and gave hugs…and now many of them still call me “mom.” :-D Don’t give up hope!!

    Nice article Trent…thanks!!

  26. marta says:

    @Jane: exactly.

    For example, you can talk about not allowing others’ judgment of your frugal ways affect you. Who cares what people think of your curtains, or your (finally discarded) truck, and so on? And people shouldn’t care either about your judgments of their spendthrift (in your perception) ways — the nice house, the Lexus on teh driveway, etc.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, yadda yadda.

  27. Esther says:

    Great post.

    For all that enjoyed this post and want to go deeper into the topic look in to The Four Agreements (as little as $.50 on Amazon for a used copy). It’s very basic but in its simplicity offers great wisdom about being true to oneself.

    Thanks for the great reminder!

  28. littlepitcher says:

    People of color, the disabled, and the disfigured know exactly how much other people’s opinions are worth, and they can be quantified in the dollars and cents of wage offers.
    The ignorant run the world. Educating them is everyone’s job, if, indeed, they are educable, and the white, middle class, pretty, and able often aren’t educable in any ethical sense.
    It makes no sense to spend money on such as these. Status symbols are useless, often harmful, to people of no status. A recent study found that a huge segment of nonwhite women had cash reserves of $5 or less. The rest went on status t-shirts and the equivalents of brainwashing.

  29. Anna is now Raven says:

    @Esther: Yes, The Four Agreements is interesting and has helped many. I do question one of the Agreements: “It’s not about you” (referring to what other people say or do). This is very often true, but sometimes it IS about you. If, for instance, a spouse who behaving very badly can shrug off comments or protests from the partner by saying “It’s not about me” when it very well IS about him/her.

  30. Erin says:

    This post is of special interest to me.

    The day I said “I don’t care what you think” was the day I started living!

    I’ve ALWAYS cared what others thought. It’s affected my self esteem and life choices greatly. It’s almost all I thought about…how to live up to other standards and opinions.

    But one day, I finally realized I was NOT entitled to my coworkers lifestyle choices that I was so envious of. Being a divorced single mom, made me no less than them. Bringing in half their income didn’t make me less than them…which is what I thought. I wasn’t in their ‘class’ so therefore I wasn’t worthy. (Which is the same ‘class’ most of my family is in as well.)

    But one day I woke up and made a choice to be happy exactly where I was in my life and exactly where God intended for me to be! And I have never looked back. :) I am much more outgoing, can give a speech in a crowd and not get nervous because if I mess up I don’t care what they think, we all mess up, etc!!

    It was THAT easy for me. It freed me up to enjoy MY life! And now I value my frugal choices, and my paid off economy car, and my tiny home (that my coworkers could not believe I would buy!), and I definitely value MY SAVINGS! :)

  31. SEC Lawyer says:

    It is one thing to be enslaved to the opinion of others, quite another to ignore the opinions of others altogether. It is “my opinion” that we all should think about this before telling another person that his or her opinion doesn’t matter.

  32. MelodyO says:

    Best advice I’ve heard on this subject: it’s none of your business what other people think of you.

  33. Terriann says:

    I found a great quote last year and posted it on my refrigerator. It helped me to get those other, judgmental voices out of my head. Here it is, paraphrased: “It’s none of my business what other people think of me”. This is not to say that I don’t seek wise counsel from the people in my life who really see who I am and whose insight and accumulated life experiences can enrich and guide me.

  34. karishma says:

    Coincidentally, I just came across this quote for the first time yesterday:
    “Be who you are and say what you feel‘cause people who mind don’t matter, and people who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

  35. Mel says:

    @karishma: Love the quote! :)
    I absolutely agree with the post, with one caveat: I have never cared about what people think, that’s just how I am. When I was at school (from almost the first day onwards) I endured a lot of grief because I was ‘different’ – meaning I didn’t try to be like everyone else. Sometimes, not caring gives you a very small social circle. That’s something I’m still learning to get over.

  36. SEC Lawyer says:



    “Invariably” is more like it. One who doesn’t care what others think — and actually tells them so — should expect to have very few friends. You may or may not wind up feeling good about that result. But, the less you visibly care about the views of others, the more certain you are to be alone in this world.

  37. susan says:

    As the author of the “Penny Pincher’s Gazette” said “I was worried that people would notice or think I was cheap when I started cutting back- but no one noticed!”
    I know lots of fashionably dressed and flashy people that I wouldn’t want to go to the best restaurant in town with, and other friends I would LOVE to heat up leftovers and stay in to talk with all night. The latter are the people whose opinion matter to me.

  38. Suzanne says:

    This idea was proposed years ago in a book titled “What you think of me is none of my business” by Terry Cole Whittaker. It pops up periodically as new generations discover the importance of value-centered thinking. The idea is that if you are true to your values, the toxic beliefs of others are best left checked at the door. The power of this concept is maximized by NOT telling people off/not confronting others– rather, we use our understanding of the situation to filter out opinions and thoughts that sabotage progress toward our own goals. To be all the wiser, it is better not to share all that we know, especially when we are aware that the receiver couldn’t hear what we have to say.

  39. Todd says:

    Fascinating post. I had to take a couple days to think about it. Some might confuse “Don’t care what others think” with “Don’t care about others.” We should care about other people, but if they aren’t caring about us there’s no reason to care about their opinion.

    In other words, if someone is honestly trying to express a way that we could improve (as in a job performance review, or a friend/spouse/child telling us that something we did is hurtful, annoying, etc.) then we should care enough about them to listen and perhaps to change our ways.

    On the other hand, if the opinion isn’t from a spirit of caring about us, then why should we listen to it?

    There’s a big difference between being a jerk who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks and being someone who lets other people’s uncaring criticisms dictate their lives.

    Likewise, there’s a big difference between a “friend” who won’t come to a party at your house because it’s not fancy enough, and a friend who expresses honest concern that falling ceiling boards might harm one of your children!

  40. Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says:

    Those people who can’t keep up with your change need to be rid of for your mental sake, theres and the whole of humanities. You don’t help anyone by staying connected with them.

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