Last week, as I was listening to one of Taylor Swift’s newest song, the following lyrics came on:
𝘕𝘰 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘺 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘮𝘦 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘬𝘪𝘥 𝘚𝘰 𝘐'𝘷𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘢 𝘤𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘛𝘰 𝘮𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮 𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘮𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘪𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘮 𝘦𝘧𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴
These few words spoke to me heavily as I have been them for years on end. Growing up, I was bullied quite a bit. I remember having friends and suddenly, in 4th grade, my classmates turned on me and I became the laughing stock of the group. I spent most of 4th and 5th grade without friends. I grew to despise recess as I’d wander the playground alone trying to stay out of sight or play with younger children as far as I could from my classmates. But every now and again, they’d come around to torment me. They’d point at me and say that I was fat, ugly or that I was playing with the small kids because I was a baby. Recess became a synonym of anxiety and shame and I hated every minute of it.
Looking back, I can clearly see that I was heavily depressed at the time and I hid it as well as I could from my parents. To this day, I am still not sure how the bullying and rejection started or what happened for me to become the outsider among my friends. All I know is that this rejection has had a deep impact on me and it has had consequences for years after the bullying stopped. Because of those two miserable years, I spent most of my teenage years and adulthood trying to be liked by everyone. As I feared rejection to my core, the best remedy I found to prevent becoming an outsider has been to do my utmost for everyone to like me. As Taylor says in her song “I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since to make them love me and make it seem effortless”. The problem with being liked by everyone is that it’s not possible. I am not for everyone and no one is. There will always be someone who will find my personality, my views, my ways not to be their cup of tea.
As a very ambitious person working a corporate job, being liked by everyone has been a difficult challenge. It is extremely hard to climb the ladder, to shine, to showcase unique abilities and to make difficult business decisions while trying to please everyone. Actually, I don’t think it’s possible. Therefore, over the years, I have had to learn that I can’t please everyone and that I am not for everyone. Accepting that some people might not like me has been one of the hardest things I have had to learn.
It has not been an easy and simple journey. I didn’t wake up one morning not caring what other people think of me and in all honesty, I still care for the most part. In fact, it has taken me a whole decade to learn that I couldn’t please everyone and that I have to accept that it is ok if some people don’t like me. Writing articles like this one has been an important step in this journey as I know that while some people like these articles, others couldn't care less about what I think and believe I shouldn’t be writing at all. But I have learned to accept that I am not for everyone and I will never be.
As I heard Taylor’s song (on repeat if I am being honest), I have tried to sum up all that I have learned over the last 10 years to get me here today. I hope it can help others learn that it’s ok not to be a pleaser and that no one is for everyone.
From the age of 10 and well into my 30s, I feared rejection and I considered social validation a one-way street. I was subjected to other people’s acceptance and I should do my utmost to get it. For some reason, it didn’t cross my mind that social validation is a two-way street and that as much as people can decide not to like me, I can do the same. And I can do it first. At some point, in the last ten years, I have realized that it’s not just up to others to decide if they like me, it’s also up to me to decide if I like them. I know that for many, this is obvious and nothing but a rational fact, but for those of us who suffer the trauma of rejection, we often fail to recognize that we can empower ourselves in choosing also who we like. This is a two-way street and I am allowed to walk away.
The myth of being universally liked:
Over the last ten years, Social Media has exploded in a way no one could have imagined 25 years ago. And while I have been learning that I can’t please everyone, we have all been subjected to the rise of social validation through picture perfect Instagram influencers and individuals everywhere seeking to go viral. It’s been hard to learn that I am not for everyone while I watched the world trying to obtain universal social validation online. Many of us believe that being universally liked will bring us happiness and a sense of belonging. It will validate our existence and give us purpose. But will it really? Will pleasing everyone just like receiving a million likes from strangers really bring happiness and give a sense of purpose? As I have watched Social Media influencers rise and fall, I have also come to the realization that it is not possible to find universal acceptance and that no one can be for everyone. I have also realized that being liked by the masses doesn't bring a sense of purpose nor happiness, it brings pressure and stress to maintain the social validation consensus and that is usually too much pressure for anyone to bear.
Pleasing everyone means to forget who I am:
To please everyone, I have had to alter my opinions, to suppress myself and to mold my personality to the people around me so I’d fit in. I have had to meet others' expectations and along the way, I forgot a little bit who I was, what I care for and what makes me happy. I forgot my own opinions and I didn’t respect my own needs. I went out to meet friends when my introverted side needed a rest and I have agreed with leaders without asking myself what I truly thought. It is not possible to be authentic while trying to get everyone's approval and validation. It has taken a conscious effort for me to learn to let go and relearn who I am, what my opinions and needs are. By letting go, I have given myself the freedom to explore and express my true identity and I have slowly stopped apologizing for who I am.
Finding my people
As I have learned to be myself, I have also learned to connect with people who genuinely resonate with me. It turns out there are many people who appreciate my quirks, respect my boundaries and value my opinion… More than I could have ever imagined as a 10 years old.
It’s ok if some people don’t like me at work:
For a very long time, I was afraid of what would happen if people didn’t like me at work. Don’t get me wrong, there has always been people who didn’t like me at work, but I tried as hard as I could to minimize the amount. I used to be extremely nice to the extent of going out of my way for people who seemed not to care about me. Today, I am still nice to everyone because that is who I am but I no longer bother being nicer to people who don’t seem to care about me. I don’t have the time nor the patience nor need to make everyone like me and I have learned that it is ok. These people will not get me fired or bully me in the hallways. I have also learned that it is ok and respected to share unpopular opinions when needed. It might sound silly, but I have also learned that making unpopular decisions will not get me rejected by all my peers. Respect is not earned by pleasing people but earned by doing what’s right.
Increased self-worth and assertiveness:
As I have learned to rely less on external approval to validate my self-worth, I have learned to recognize my own value and I have stopped seeking constant reassurance from others. This has given me an important boost in self-esteem allowing me to be more grounded and more empowered. Over time, this increase in self-esteem has also allowed me to become more assertive and I have become a lot more comfortable expressing my thoughts, feelings and opinions. I have also allowed myself to be vulnerable more easily.
A lot more time:
Looking back, I realize how much time pleasing everyone took. Not only did it take a lot of time, it was also mentally and emotionally exhausting. Learning to let go has freed up a lot of my time and energy so I can focus on things that matter to me.
As I have learned to accept that I am not for everyone, I have learned to build resilience and emotional strength I never thought I’d have. I have had to learn to handle criticism and disapproval without it affecting my self-worth. This enables me now to bounce back from setbacks much faster and face difficult situations more easily.
Growing up, the pain of rejection led me to desperately seek the approval of friends and peers. It has taken me years to realize that I am not for everyone and that I will never be liked by everyone. Although it has been a hard journey, I am extremely thankful for it as it has helped me discover the power of authenticity and personal growth. By embracing who I am, with all of my strengths and weaknesses, I have learned to break free from the need of the ever elusive universal acceptance. Through this growth, I have created genuine connections with people and I have managed to move forward successfully with my career. I am not for everyone and I will never be. Today, knowing this no longer scares me but makes me happy as I am free from trying to please everyone around me.