Not Everyone Will Like You (And That's OK)
I’m a reformed people pleaser—well, mostly reformed. I spent a majority of my younger years trying to make people like me. And, despite my desperate attempts, I had very few real relationships.
I think it’s a struggle nearly everyone can relate to. Humans are social by design. We want to be accepted. We crave validation from those around us. Even the loners and the introverts want to be understood. By nature, I’m a sarcastic person, a book nerd and a bit of a know-it-all. I used to try to hide these traits, to pretend I’m cooler than I am. I’d mimic my friends’ interests, avidly agree with their opinions and do whatever they told me to do, even when it meant compromising my own morals. That’s what friends do, right?
I was a lapdog. I gave permission for other people to walk over me. I was too afraid to say no. It was better to be liked by others than to like myself. Nobody knew the real me, which is a problem because people have to know the real you in order to like you. I was miserable because of it all. Although I wish I hadn’t spent so many years chasing friends, if I hadn’t experienced those toxic relationships I wouldn’t be as appreciative of the ones I have now. I can’t blame the people who took advantage of my insecurities because I was a willing participant.
Thankfully, I’ve grown older and wiser. I’ve discovered true friendships and the kind of people who love you, flaws and all. The friends who respect you, encourage you and don’t care if you can pick up their bar tab— ones who make you realize you don’t have to play a role. But the struggle to be accepted and liked doesn’t end with our friends. Even in the professional world, we want our coworkers to like us and think highly of us. Is it possible to balance the need to be respected with the desire to be liked?
You can be kind without compromising your integrity. You can have a difference of opinion and still be respectful. You can be compassionate without being passive. Work shouldn’t be a popularity contest. It sounds simple, but it’s rarely that easy. Relationships in the workplace are complex. Spending 40 hours together can blur the lines of friendship and professionalism. You have to be willing to stand your ground and focus on your career goals.
It’s not that you can’t be friendly, but you definitely can’t cater to everyone. Don’t live in fear of being disliked. Once I let go of the burning desire to be accepted and appreciated by everyone, I began to understand the freedom that comes with it. I spent far too long trying to convince people I was likeable and it was exhausting. The effort it took was only matched by the depression I felt. When I stopped caring so much, I suddenly felt more respected, and genuinely liked. It was liberating. (And I realized it comes with huge benefits.)
You have the power to say no
The most draining thing in the world is feeling obligated to do something. You may not be able to blow off an important meeting, but you can say no to things you aren’t excited about. Don’t jump on every project at work. Be realistic about your commitments. It’s better to put your full energy and passion into one project than attach your name to multiple ones that spread you thin.
You can be yourself
People are drawn to others that have confidence. Part of that confidence comes from the ability to embrace the real you. You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you don’t have to be—and there’s power that comes from that.
You can learn from your critics
Throughout history some of the most powerful and influential people have faced harsh criticism and blatant dislike. It comes with the territory. Success comes with side commentary. Some of it can be constructive, but some of it can be cruel. Once you become adept at filtering it out, you can learn and grow from it.
You can only worry about yourself
You can only control your actions and reactions. Don’t kill yourself trying to impress your coworkers. Know where to focus your energy. They don’t have to like you (and you don’t have to like them) to work together. Your success won’t always be met with enthusiasm, but you can’t let that hold you back.
There will always be a part of me that worries when someone doesn’t like me. But I no longer allow it to cripple me. My validity doesn’t rest with others; I am worthy without their approval. I am not liked by everyone in this world, but I’m pretty OK with that.
Heather lives in Jacksonville, FL, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. She currently bartends to pay the bills, while looking for a new career in public relations. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.