In 1902, the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley wrote: “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” Let that blow your mind for a moment. Our identity is wrapped up in what others think of us—or, more accurately, what we think others think of us.
Not only is our self-image tied up in how we think others see us, but most of our efforts at self-improvement are really just us trying to meet that imagined ideal. If we think someone we admire sees wealth as success, then we chase wealth to impress that person. If we imagine that a friend is judging our looks, we tailor our appearance in response. In West Side Story, Maria meets a boy who’s into her.