I had a massive insight yesterday, spurred by a conversation with my best friend Desiree, that may have just provided the key to a more satisfying, far-reaching and valuable work life.
I discovered that it is OK if not everyone likes what I say, do or believe.
And even more than that,
If I continue to believe that it is essential that everyone likes what I do, I will not live up to my true potential.
Mind you, I am no shrinking flower. I pound people on a regular basis in my Mixed Martial Arts class (all in the name of training, of course). I love big challenges and taking the stage. I am not afraid of digging into the fear, uncertainty or doubt that my clients face. In fact, I thrive in those conversations.
I am not afraid of big executives. Or tough kids. Or PTA Moms.
But still somewhere locked in the back of my mind is the worry that as I step forward into new areas of work that everyone who has been in my community must agree with my decisions and my direction.
When I posted about it on Facebook, an enormous discussion ensued about why women are so much more inclined than men to worry about making sure everyone around them is taken care of and happy.
Someone who is a female start up founder in Silicon Valley said:
“In Silicon Valley, men don’t let criticism or rejection get in their way, stop them, or effect their self-esteem. In fact, some of them thrive on having haters because it’s fuel for when they do succeed just so they can say, “I was right despite you all!”
Such massive gender generalizations of course have massive exceptions.
But it is hard to deny that women are socialized far more than men to be accepted and liked.
Another Facebook commenter shared things she had learned in a class about the psychology of prejudice:
“Women are expected to work for the good of the group, to be cooperative, supportive, and non-confrontational. Basically, ‘likeable’. When we fail to live up to this, we get subtle (and often not-so-subtle) cues from society that we are not living up to expectations; we are acting in a way that is not ‘womanly’, and thus we learn to strive to be ‘likeable’.
Men, on the other hand, are expected to be competitive, aggressive, assertive. Nobody expects a man to be ‘likeable’, to sacrifice himself for the good of someone else, or play down his own strengths so that someone else can feel better about themselves. Thus, they learn to not give a *&#$ if someone doesn’t like them… particularly when they’re working hard to get ahead and succeed (both of which are considered ‘manly’ traits).
These are the quiet lessons we learn growing up. So even when we ‘know better’, it can cause stress and anxiety to go against those deeply ingrained lessons from our earlier days.”
For men reading this, hopefully this will help you make sense of the internal struggle your sisters, daughters, Mom, wife or Aunts may face.
I think they have made great strides in this area because they have done their work.
Does this mean you should seek to be disliked?
That wouldn’t really work with my personality. My friend Stacy Goldring gave a great alternative:
“You can have a preference for being liked without an attachment to the outcome!”
The underlying assumption of “people need to like me” is I can control what people think or feel which of course is not only impossible, it is insulting.
Do your thing. Own your choices. Don’t get up in someone’s business if they disagree with you, or even openly dislike you.
Bold work involves bold decisions and bold opinions. Creating is messy and complicated and opaque.
I am excited by this seemingly small yet massively critical insight. I will be working on it actively this whole next year.
What are your thoughts about the tyranny of needing to be liked? Please, disagree with me!
(And if you need a quick shot of acceptance, you can always count on your parents. Unless they are unkind. In which case, borrow Jerry Seinfeld’s parents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSbuIPYGqNM&feature=youtu.be Tip @andypels)
In other news, this blog turns 7 years old today. Back in 2005, I had no idea what I was doing, and every post was an adventure. I am happy to say that nothing has changed. I still get giddy when I open up a fresh post, and feel the rush of discovering what I think through the process of writing.
Thanks to all of you who have been part of this journey. The greatest gift for a writer is being read.