The Unlikable Liked

Would I rather be feared or loved? Um, easy… both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.

– Michael Scott, The Office

I’m not sure when it started, this all-consuming need to be liked.  For my entire life, I’ve thrown around the term “people pleaser” as a type of apology for my own neurosis.

“Don’t mind me, habitual people pleaser over here,” with a sad laugh and defeated shrug.

I don’t know what it is about the approval of those around me, and even strangers, but it gets me high.  What can I say?  I’m an addict.  A compulsive user of the approval of others.

There’ve been times in my life that this deep need to be liked has held me back.  Many. Times.  The times someone I admired attacked a political or moral belief I held and, instead of standing my ground, I changed the subject.  The times I avoided a confrontation because the very thought of standing up for myself made me sick to my stomach.  In hindsight, there are many times I can look back on my life and wish that the me I am now could stumble upon the Tardis and take a quick ride to another place and time to visit the me that I was then and yell at her, “Don’t just sit there, fight!”

I’m a fan of growing older.  I’m starting to realize that I don’t have to have the approval of everyone, and this feeling is so liberating that it’s a new kind of buzz.  It feels, in a way, like I’ve sloughed off a protective outer layer of skin and what’s left is the more-true me.  A lighter, more open person.  A better mom.  A better wife.  A better me.

The committee I said “no” to joining?  It was like losing 10 pounds.  The people I’ve chosen to love from a distance and not close proximity?  Even better.

The price of the “post-people pleaser high” is this… resentment.  The people you cared so much about that you sacrificed to please them, you end up not even liking that much because you resent the compromises you made to gain their approval.

The greatest lesson for this wise old graying would-be breakdancer is this…  The best way I can love others is to avoid reinventing myself into my perception of how they would like me to be. Because I’ll only end up resenting them for it later.

A friend said something to me recently that is complex in its simplicity.  “In 100 years we’ll all be dead.”

My first thought was, “Actually a lot less than 100 years.”

Very few of us will be remembered in 100 years by anyone other than the people we gave our most honest, best selves to.  Our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will remember us if our love for them makes us worth remembering.  For those that don’t have children, nieces and nephews, friends, close colleagues… they will pass a good memory of you on to the next generation.

We won’t have a statue created in our likeness.  Most won’t have a building named in their honor.  It will be hard to make “the history books” because books will be replaced by the interwebs and you know 95% of rooms have a spotty signal.

“Who are you?  Outside of being a mom, who do you want to be?” a dear friend asked me recently.

My answer formed so quickly I didn’t even pause.  “I’m a writer.”

The idea that I can really be that version of me, and not hang on to a million coulda, woulda, shouldas is one of the most liberating moments I’ve experienced in my adult life.

If something is not a ‘hell YEAH!’ then it’s a ‘no!’

– James Altucher


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