I worked very hard for the majority of my life to make sure that in all cases and at all times, I remained extremely likable.
When I was a kid we moved around a lot. This meant that there was always a new school or a new neighborhood to settle into. I was prone to extreme shyness, but elementary school taught me that If I could walk into a room and make people laugh, they would automatically like me. Wala! It was magic!
I learned quickly how to make other kids feel like they knew me, like we were a part of something secret and awesome together that they just didn’t know about yet. I was essentially a 10 year old politician. And it worked.
I sat at every lunch table! I never had to play alone at recess! Being likable is the bomb.
By high school, my concern for being well-liked had turned into a semi-obsession. How could I be the most things to the most people possible?
To the highly religious kids, I was highly religious. To the clubbers, I was a clubber. To the sports people, I loved going to their basketball games 3 hours out of town. Being likable gets you a lot of things. It gets you party invitations, nominations for homecoming court, and even (a few) dates.
It also gets you a whole lot of names and numbers in your phone that will mean nothing in a year or two.
To college and early 20’s me, being likable was everything. And as a result, so much of my life was burdened with a sense of obligation.
I said yes to everyone and everything. I loaned people money. I volunteered for community service projects, mostly out of guilt that someone would think badly of me if I didn’t. There was a fear that if I dropped the ball on anything, someone would realize they didn’t like me after all. And is there anything worse than that?
As you might imagine, by the time you’re rounding the corner towards 30 years old, living like this will make you a stress basket. And I was. And I sometimes still am. But I’m recovering.
For me, recovery was brought on by a series of life changing events in extremely quick succession. Moving 3 times, seriously dating someone, getting married, changing churches, buying a house, switching jobs.. I’m tired just talking about it all!
I didn’t have time to manage everyone else’s opinions of what I was doing. I didn’t have time to explain. I just had to go with it and see who was still cool with me afterwards. I’ll tell you what – Nothing has been more revealing… more clarifying, than who the people are that stick with you after all of that is done.
I’ve probably lost 30-40 acquaintances in the last year, and only gained 3-4 lifelong friends. And that makes the old me wince a little, but honestly I’ve never felt lighter. I definitely still know how smile a lot, tell a bunch of jokes, and then disappear with the general approval of the room. But for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I have to.
What if we don’t need everyone to like us?
What if instead of being our own PR people, managing our Instagram accounts and party appearances to maintain the perfect persona, we just lived our lives? What if we showed up places and were just fully ourselves, and we only became friends with the people who liked us for who we actually were? What if we got to know ourselves just as well as we know the thoughts and opinions of the people around us? If you’re anything like me, there’s a better way to live.
I no longer care what everyone thinks of me, and it’s been one of my best decisions yet.