I was recently approached by a frazzled woman at a train station who was on the verge of tears. With an unsteady, quavering voice and a shaky demeanor, she explained that she’d been approaching strangers for several hours, while looking to collect enough fare to purchase an Amtrak ticket. Her wallet was lost, and she needed to get home in order to avoid spending the night in Manhattan’s Penn Station (which houses a couple of tasty smoothie storefronts, but it’s not exactly an atmosphere for a good night’s sleep).

I did ultimately give her a little bit of money, but what I was really struck by was her overall concern that I would laugh or make fun of her current anxious state. “I’m sure you must think I’m crazy approaching strangers, but I’m just so nervous,” she said. Although she was in a rather desperate situation, which can surely call for communicating with strangers, she was focused on how others would perceive her outreach.

This woman at the train station is certainly not different from you and me. To an extent, we all care what other people think of us. In fact, it permeates every facet of our being, and we typically are not even aware of it. Caring about what others think infiltrates ordinary, everyday aspects of our lives, whether it may be tending to our physical appearance, making certain life choices, or selectively choosing the words we say to those around us.

Social networking sites probably only enhance the need for approval, and Facebook is a prime example.

While some individuals create a Facebook page purely to keep tabs on friends and family, it predominantly serves as a platform — a platform in which we play a ‘role’ that entertains an audience willing to listen. We know what we’re doing when we upload certain photos, post expressive statuses, and write specific sentiments on various walls; not only do we crave attention from others, but we want others to see us in a particular light.

According to an article by Tom Ferry, CEO of YourCoach, the need for approval has been conditioned within us since birth.

“Approval from others gives us a higher sense of self-esteem. We’re convinced that their recognition matters to our self-worth and how deeply we value ourselves.”

While seeking approval from others may be inevitable, problems may arise depending on how far one goes down that road. When caring how other people perceive us interferes with our own intuition, that’s when you may need to simply follow your heart and do what you feel is right. If you find yourself biting your lip from saying a quirky comment out of fear that others will raise their eyebrows in judgment, maybe that’s a time to try to bury that mindset and just be yourself.

By the same token, caring how others perceive us isn’t necessarily all negative. It does make sense to censor what we say to spare hurt feelings, to act appropriately at a religious affair, or to dress a certain way to fit into a designated environment. (Wearing a low-cut top on a job interview at a corporate office may not be the best way to impress the company’s president.) In other words, there are lots of gray areas and it’s up to you to decide if you care too much what others think.

As the woman at the train station walked away to share her story with someone else, I smiled to myself, knowing that I did not roll my eyes at her account. Evidently, those actions would have indeed affected her, and I did not wish to be a source of her angst. See how it comes full circle?

My only regret is not recommending the pina colada smoothie for her next Penn Station venture.