As someone whose livelihood depends on people thinking well of me, I’m very conscious of what people might think about me. Will people like what I write or say? Will they think I’m too opinionated or that I harp on too much about being courageous?
Last month I got an abusive email from a male reader of this newsletter (he’s since unsubscribed) who felt I was being derogatory using a subject line that said “Never cower!” For a little while I felt wounded, taken aback because it never occurred to me that my words might be offensive. I wondered if maybe I should have used different, softer, language. Perhaps, in hindsight I could have.
After I got over the sting of his rebuttal I realised that if I’m going to share a message with people living around the world, sometimes there’ll be people who don’t like what I write, or say, or wear, or think. Sometimes there will be people who just don’t like me. Ouch. While I will never like not being liked, I accept it.
If you’re like me, and most people I know, you also like to be liked. Nothing wrong with that! However sometimes we can let our desire to be liked – and our fear of being disliked, criticized or rejected – keep us from saying what we know needs to be said, from making a change, from saying no, or setting a boundary or from simply expressing our unique individuality fully in the world.
Never let what others might think matter more than what you think!
While speaking at a women’s leadership event yesterday I talked about how important it is not to be driven by pleasing others. It’s the same concept, different words. A woman approached me afterward and shared how she has always struggled not to be too nice, but has realized that by failing to stand her ground over the years, and sometimes to assertively push forward her opinion, she’s ended up being railroaded on occasion and being passed over for promotions to people who’ve been better at speaking up, pushing back and standing their ground.
- Do I speak up or stay silent and avoid ruffling a feather?
- Do I say yes to keep people happy, or graciously decline so I have time for other priorities?
- Do I wear clothes I really love, or what I think will impress others?
- Do I forge my own path, or the path others think I should take?
Of course I’m not encouraging you not to be thoughtful about how your actions will impact others. And I’m certainly not saying it isn’t good to be kind to those around you. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing your actions have positively impacted others. I’m simply encouraging you not to let what other people think matter more than what you think! What I know for sure is that every time you have the courage to do that, you give other people permission to be more brave themselves.
Now just imagine what our world would be like if more people didn’t spend so much of their lives stuck on a treadmill trying to win approval and admiration? As Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”