Good News! Most People Are Self-Absorbed!

There seems to be a false premise that many people in the United States operate under.  It’s a dangerous one that when you construct your world view around it can lead to a very difficult and stressful lifestyle.  What is this premise?

That most people care about the details of your life.

This isn’t a pessimistic statement.  This isn’t an “oh my god i’m so alone in the world” idea.  It’s good news.  I swear!

This is what Mr. PoP thinks of anytime someone says, “Good News!”


Though the professor from Futurama is hilarious, there’s someone who communicated this point even better many many years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my favorite quotables of all.

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt



Think About The Last Time You Reflected Negatively Upon Others

Search back in your head and really try and find a time where you said to yourself, “Man that girl is really ugly without makeup” or “Wow, that guy needs to get a new car!” or even “Poor girl, her engagement ring diamond is so small.”

When was it?  Can you even remember?  I can’t.

That’s the thing.  Most people are nice, and a little self-absorbed  Seriously – they are!  And they’re overwhelmingly positive, too.  But even more than that, when we have precious limited brain capacity (which is fairly true given our own busy schedules and lives), we really don’t waste it thinking poorly of others!  It’s just not worth the time and effort.


Worrying About What Others’ Think Is Wasted Mental Energy

Once we release ourselves from this assumption that others spend THEIR time and mental energy worrying about the details of OUR lives, it’s incredibly freeing.  All of the sudden instead of wasting YOUR mental energy worrying about what THEY think of YOU (see – you’re self absorbed too!) you find yourself with a lot more time and energy to think about things that are probably a lot more important to you than other people’s opinions.

Do you think Warren Buffet ever cared if people thought his house was too small or too old?  Think Mark Zuckerberg cares what people say about his hoodie?  And look what they’ve been able to do with their mental energy.

Many of the most brilliant people that I’ve ever met don’t care a fig what other people think about the way they walk, talk, dress, or act.  I’ve joked in the past that they are smart enough to have the luxury not to care, but as I age, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not the opposite.  Perhaps they seem to have had far more mental energy than most because they don’t waste that precious brain power worrying about other peoples’ opinions.


Let’s See If We Can’t Dispel Some Common Myths

“People will think I have gotten a DUI if I take public transit or bike to work.”

Do you have a problem with public drunkenness?  So why on earth would people jump to this conclusion?  Unless your office is quite small like mine, it would be unlikely that anyone would notice the absence of your car from the parking lot.  And even if they did notice a missing car or a bike helmet that you’d taken to setting on your desk during the day and ask about your new habit, an easy response is:  “I’m trying to see if I can work some more exercise into my day and this seemed like a good way to multi-task.  No biggie.”

“My friends think I’m poor when I tell them I can’t afford to do XYZ.”

Let’s re-examine that statement for a second.  “Can’t afford” is a pretty subjectively defined.  More than likely you’re choosing not to spend money on XYZ because you’ve already allocated it to another priority (be it savings or fast food).  Since they didn’t tell you what they prioritized over XYZ, or under XYZ for that matter, why do you feel the need to share the details of your priorities?  How about?  “Oh. That’s next Tuesday night?  Sorry, I have other plans!”

Gasp!  You’re Encouraging Lying?

As much as American culture seems to celebrate being an individual, we’re still not really socialized to completely ignore how others might perceive us.  So starting down this road can be tough.  For some of us, it might even require cognitive behavioral therapy to more fully release yourself from what you perceive to be the expectations of others.  And that’s okay.

To ease the transition, what’s the harm in a couple of little white lies in the name of balance.  All you’re doing is quieting that person’s mind so they’ll spend less time thinking about you than if you shared more information than you needed to.

Staying true to yourself in terms of your actions and behavior is too powerful a force to be degraded by a couple of harmless fibs to ease some social tension and slide frictionless through another person’s conscious mind.  If anything, once you free yourself from worrying about what other people think, it’s even easier to be true to yourself.  Your own goals and priorities can seem more clearly defined and achievable without worrying about the noise of social norms.

And The Truth?

What if you said the truth every time?  Is that really the end of the world?  What if you said:

“I’m [not] doing ABC because I want to (pick one) decrease my debt load / reach financial independence / /retire before I’m 40/[insert your own goal].”

In all likelihood, the first time you said it, you’d probably have a conversation like Mr. PoP recently had with a good friend where he shook his head in disbelief for a few minutes and then said, “Good luck on that, bro!”  And that’s that.  It hasn’t come up again.


Getting yourself to realize that other people don’t care much about the details of your life isn’t easy and it may be a continual challenge, but it is incredibly powerful.  And I highly recommend it.


Have you ever wasted time and mental energy worrying about what other people think of you?  Of your clothes?  Of your hair?  Has it held you back?  

37 comments to Good News! Most People Are Self-Absorbed!

  • Tara

    I’ve noticed as I get older that there are many people who are afraid of being frank when it comes to money issues. I work in the non-profit field and we’re always looking for ways to save money with our needed services (special event vendors, printing needs, etc). As I’m new at my current organization, it seems that not many folks at my current organization ever felt the need to bring up cost reductions with our vendors in the past and they use one vendor for a certain need and never shop around to verify they’re getting the best price! I brought up with our printer the fact that we’re trying to save money and want a single-color program for our last event and while the quoted price wasn’t great, TWO times he called me back after the order and gave us more for the original quote, so we ended up getting top-notch paper for the cost of a low-quality paper.

    My point to this is it never hurts to ask or mention the yours (or your organization’s) financial limitations as you might even get a discount if you be up-front about that stuff. Like at my job, a vendor may be more reasonable in their costs with you. Same with a friend… a friend may be open to choosing a more affordable place to meet-up for dinner if you mention your budget restrictions to them (although make sure you don’t do it in a woe-is-me way as that might turn them off alltogether)

    • I think you’re definitely right about the tone. Suggesting another more budget friendly alternative to XYZ can be done even without specifically spelling out budget constraints and definitely without any woe-is-me air.

  • I let other people’s opinions make decisions for me for a long time, even though they certainly never thought about it. I always used to feel pressured about where I lived, how much I went out with friend, what clothes I wore. But man, realizing that most people don’t even notice the major details of your life is incredibly freeing. I’ve realized that I don’t have to have the same goals and expectations of my friends and coworkers to still enjoy their company. I just don’t share every detail of what I’m thinking.
    CashRebel recently posted..Adapting to Wealth and NetflixMy Profile

    • Exactly. I bet subtly changing things about your habits didn’t attract any attention from your friends, either. Buy new shirts less often? Or a slightly less expensive brand? How many friends really notice that stuff?

  • If you want people to like you, make them talk about themselves. They will talk wonders about you even though they are unable to remember one fact about you. I am not very limited by what people think, I stopped caring early on, and now they have accepted me as I am which is awesome. if you present a fake face to people they will adopt it and expect you to be like that all the time, that is double work for both.
    Pauline recently posted..Friday recap, family and a scraped siteMy Profile

  • Lara

    I largely agree with the point you are trying to make, but I’m afraid that I spent most of the last 24 hours meditating negatively upon someone. Two days ago I went to pick my child up from a 4h instruction held at someone’s home. I observed a rather frowsy looking woman placidly sitting on a couch while her three youngest children made a mess and her two oldest behaved badly in the class. When things finished up, I observed them pile into a car, with much squabbling and yelling, then quickly back up…….over the host family’s cat. I swore to myself that day, that I would never give anyone a reason to think as poorly of me as I did of that woman.

    Since then I’ve been trying to examine my own behaviors and see if there are any areas that need improvement. With regards to money: I need to be vigilant that my frugality does not ever slip into cheapness. I need to be very careful when I talk about money issues so that I do not come across as bragging or whining. I should be more considerate of those who have less.

    Warren Buffett may not have a mansion, but his yard isn’t filled with trash. Nor did Mark Zuckerberg wear a hoodie to his wedding. If Eleanor Roosevelt was thought odd, it’s because she was more compassionate toward her fellow man than than most people are. Let’s all try to be classy odd.

    • I’m sorry to hear about the woman you encountered. She sounds like she was definitely having a rough day.

      “Warren Buffett may not have a mansion, but his yard isn’t filled with trash. Nor did Mark Zuckerberg wear a hoodie to his wedding. If Eleanor Roosevelt was thought odd, it’s because she was more compassionate toward her fellow man than than most people are. Let’s all try to be classy odd.”

      Too true. I think there’s a limit to most people’s self absorbedness and it tends to be when you get a few too many standard deviations from the norm. A yard full of trash in an otherwise nice neighborhood is VERY different. I think I maintain a persona of normalcy, though at heart I’m pretty weird. Those close to me know the full weird me and love me for it. Those not close to me aren’t really given a cause to think about me much.

  • Hahaha, yes, this is one of the guiding principles of the grumpy nation, that most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to care about yours. Except, apparently, on the internets.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumpies: worth fighting insurance company?My Profile

    • Yes! The internets are certainly a bit of an exception. I’ve been surprised and awed by how few (0 to date) trolls seem to exist in our own little corner of the internet. (Hopefully I am not asking for trouble by saying that.) So it seems to go along with my hypotheses that those who do take the time to listen and care are mostly positive =)

  • This is all true. Most people don’t care what you’re doing, and you shouldn’t care if they care anyway. Life’s too short.

    I do agree with Lara’s hilarious comment above, though. It’s okay to try to maintain certain standards for yourself without really caring what others think.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..VIP Club: Best Week Ever EditionMy Profile

  • LOVE this post! I used to care way too much about what people thought. It is something that I have really improved on and I no longer care!
    Michelle recently posted..12 Facts about Student Loan Debt that will make Your Hair Stand on EndMy Profile

  • Wow, that’s definitely a different way to look at it. And it’s so true! Even if they think negatively of you, it would only be for a moment, and then they get on with their lives. I’ve been struggling recently with what others think, but this post definitely came at the right time! Thanks!
    Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans recently posted..Links Lisa Likes – 5/10/13My Profile

    • Glad the post came at the right time for you, Lisa! Feel free to bookmark it and come back and read it anytime you need a little boost in not caring what others think. =)

  • We try hard not to worry about what others think. I don’t care most of the time, but we do need to keep our front yard in decent shape for the HoA… they do care!
    Lance @ Money Life and More recently posted..Best 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards of Summer 2013My Profile

    • Ha! And that is why we don’t have an HOA. It always felt like an invitation for scrutiny when in a civil society such scrutiny is not needed nor welcomed.

  • I love that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. One of my high school history teachers first shared it with me, and I had forgotten the wisdom of it. Thanks for the reminder.

    I spent a lot of high school and some of college worried what others would think. I think I’m starting to grow out of it, but I still have a ways to go. Just the other day, for instance, someone asked me if my husband and I rent or own our home. I’m not sure why she asked (I’d just met this person 30 seconds ago), but I found myself feeling embarrassed for admitting that we rent. And my embarrassment was totally unwarranted. We got married less than a year ago, and we live in an expensive area. It’s unusual for people to buy homes here before the age of 30, so I have no reason to feel ashamed. But somehow, I did. I’m sure I dwelled much more on the conversation than she did!
    JW_Umbrella Treasury recently posted..20-Dollar Dates: Madison Square EatsMy Profile

    • A few times recently I’ve been recollecting a quote and when I looked up the exact wording, it happened to come from Eleanor Roosevelt. She truly was a pretty amazing woman for her time.

      I agree you probably dwelled on that rent/own conversation way longer than your acquaintance did. She’s probably long since forgotten it!

  • I don’t lie, but I also try not to start everything with “I can’t afford…” unless I have another suggestion. I’ve been on the receiving end, and it’s a little exasperating unless the other person comes up with frugal suggestions on things to do instead.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Talk Me Out of Getting More Car Than I NeedMy Profile

    • I guess I don’t look at it as super-lying, just not sharing the full truth. With biking, I told friends at work I wanted to give it a shot for adding exercise. That’s certainly a bonus, but it wasn’t my primary reason for trying it in the first place. But sometimes the real reason is long and drawn out and really qualifies as over-sharing, ya know?

  • Great article! I for sure have in the past worried about what other people thought. I mean the whole reason I started BATB privately was because I was worried about discussing what I thought were my bad financial habits and having people I know find out. But a lot of my mindset has changed, especially regarding my finances. Now I don’t have a problem saying, “it’s not in the budget right now.” I say that a lot actually. :) I also used to be really bad about what other people thought of my skills like beach volleyball. I tore myself up with agonizing thoughts about weather I measured up. It’s certainly been a demon of mine but I’m a lot better than I used to be.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Link Love/Week in Review 5/17/13My Profile

    • So glad that it’s gotten better for you. And it must be a lot better since you are “out” as a blogger with your site, right? Do you think that it’s harder to say stuff like that in LA than it might be in other areas of the country?

  • While I agree it can be liberating to live life without a care about what others think I think that on some level it helps me to be a better person. I do care somewhat what others think, but more importantly when I step out of my own shoes and reflect on myself I want to do things to become a better version of myself for myself. If I didn’t care what I or others thought I would become a wasteful, lazy bum. I’m sure other people don’t notice or care, which is fine by me as long as my motivation exists.

    Reading that sounds weird, but who cares, right? 😉
    Mr. Bonner recently posted..401k vs. Roth IRAMy Profile

    • Who cares indeed! =)

      As long as believing that people really are concerned with the details of your life helps improve your life, then by all means, go with it. I think for most people it becomes a drain and a stressor on their lives rather than a motivator for improving themselves. And that’s where worrying too much about the thoughts of others can be harmful.

  • […] Our Pennies has good news! Most people are self-absorbed too… enough […]

  • Of course, in my younger years, I definitely worried about what others were thinking about me. Now, I’m not so concerned. I realized how I’m not constantly judging other people, and therefore it’s unlikely that other people are judging me.
    Tushar @ Everything Finance recently posted..3 Questions To Ask Yourself When It Comes to SplurgingMy Profile

  • Meg

    I’m going to have to disagree somewhat. I’m frugal, and people definitely notice, and it’s not always positive.

    At my last job, during my employment review, my boss expressed concern that my husband and I shared one car. I had never once been late to work or missed a day due to transportation issues.

    Another manager commented that I have few clothes and tend to repair them. Everything I wear is neat, clean and appropriately formal, but I felt compelled to purchase some additional tops to add to the rotation.

    My current coworkers think I’ve been dropped among them from Zork because I actually care about things like saving for retirement and being frugal at my age.

    It’s made me very conscious of and anxious about how I’m perceived at work.
    Meg recently posted..Marry Young, ProsperMy Profile

    • Meg, that’s so surprising! I’m so sorry that it sounds like work environments have felt stressful because of your frugal habits.

      As long as we’re not wearing tattered clothes, I’ve never had anyone comment on not having a sufficient rota of office appropriate clothes. You mentioned it was your last job. Do you think it was that particular office, or something unique to the industry? (I have friends in the fashion industry who almost by definition need significantly bigger wardrobes than my own for work.)

      Mr PoP and I both have some spendthrift colleagues that know that we budget and save, but we always budget so that we can participate in the minimum expected “work outings” so they know we value collegiality with others at the office. If frugality gets brought up at the office, it’s usually in a jocular fashion to avoid giving the impression that we are judging co-workers’ spendthrift ways. I think that tends to stick out as a negative since people don’t want to be judged, much in the same vein that you don’t want to be judged.

      • Meg

        I have worked in for these jobs, though I’ve never been client facing; we work by phone and e-mail. I think the fact that we sell a high-end product and that the industry in general is rather looks focused trickles down to positions where it doesn’t matter. Have you read much about anchoring? Simply hearing a higher price makes other prices that are slightly less high sound more reasonable. Selling $10,000 vacation packages day after day tends to adjust your expectations upward, even if you’d never buy one yourself. It normalizes high consumption.
        Meg recently posted..I Loathe New YorkMy Profile

  • When I was younger, I used to care a lot about my hair. Now, forget it. I wasted too much time staring in the mirror and too much money at the barber shop.
    The Financial Economist recently posted..What To Do When a Fund Manager Loses MoneyMy Profile

  • The more you care about what other people think, the more you need to show that you are strong. But when you grew wold, you acquire this wisdom to ignore those who have nothing to save but bad words.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted..Credit Karma ReviewMy Profile

  • I think if anyone said no they’d be kidding themselves as it’s human nature. Sure I have but I learned that it is wasted energy and I really don’t give rats what anyone thinks as long as I’m happy with what I am doing with my life. I am always pleasant and open to suggestions and try not to judge people because you never know their situation. Maybe they don’t want to own 2 cars and the wife enjoys taking the bus. Too many people stick their noses in others business instead of keeping their own nose clean. Sometimes I think it’s a way for others to put a cover on their own life that they don’t want or know how to handle so they pick on others.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Mr.CBB’s Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Banana BreadMy Profile

  • “People will think I have gotten a DUI if I take public transit or bike to work.” Oh wow, I never would have thought that people would think something like that. Almost everyone here (NYC) takes public transportation. I guess it depends on where you live (when I was growing up in Maine probably people would think something was up if you didn’t drive).
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Sometimes I Don’t Play Nice: Killing My DebtMy Profile

  • […] Good News! People Are Self Absorbed was a hit with Lisa from Lisa Vs The Loans and with Lance from Money Life and More in Links Lisa Likes (yay alliteration!) and in Personal Finance Roundup #56. […]