The Surprising Truth That Fuels Our Negative Thoughts About People


“He is such a loser,” I thought to myself.

I was at a bar a few weeks ago, talking to my friend Lucy. She’s an incredible writer, but you wouldn’t know it. She never talks about it. She never posts her work on social media. She never brings up any cool projects she’s working on in conversation. She’s what you might call a quiet achiever.

The only problem is that she’s a freelancer. She wants (and needs) all the projects she can get. As I was talking to her about the necessary nature of self-promotion (“It’s the new normal!” “How is anyone going to know about you?” “Stop hiding—you have great work to offer!”), she was opening up to it. Until her new boyfriend, also a writer, said, “Yeah, but Lucy’s understated. She’s not like you, Susie.” Ouch!

After my initial defensiveness wore off, I thought about what he was really saying. One of the greatest things that you can do for yourself in this world is to pay attention not to what people say, but to what they mean. I don’t know exactly what his comment meant, but maybe it was:

I’m too scared to put my creative work “out there,” so why should my girlfriend? We don’t need advice! We are doing fine! Why does someone think we need help? I don’t want Lucy to be too successful and outshine my work. Your boldness in sharing your work irks me. What makes you feel so self-assured about doing it?

Whatever the subtext, the truth is, his comment was not about m…

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