I think this dance we do through life for the approval of others is interesting. On the one hand you’re told to stop seeking such approval, all you need is your own validation. But does that really transfer to real world? Honestly, the answer is no. Every now and then in certain situations you’ll find yourself hiding or exaggerating parts of your personality in order to be liked or gain the approval of the people in your company. Job interviews? You hide your insecurities and fact you can easily get overwhelmed. Instead, you exaggerate your intellect and ability to work with others. In that very moment you want to be liked, even admired if you’re lucky.
Relatable? This doesn’t make you superficial, don’t worry. However, is does make my point that to some extent we are all walking shapeshifters; adapting our personalities or perceptions of self to gain likability to various social situations. It’s actually necessary for survival and to achieve life goals we have; without being likable to others, we most noticeably wouldn’t be able to inspire or influence others. Teachers and coaches giving pep talks wouldn’t inspire their pupils or team respectively without the recipients of the talk liking their teacher enough to listen, if not respect the words they’re saying.
I was thinking more about this human longing to be liked, to gain approval from peers as I binged watched the first few seasons of The Office US during the first lockdown. For those familiar with the show. you’ll know that Michael Scott, the show’s regional manager and protagonist yearns to be liked by his colleagues a little too much, despite being their superior. This leads to him often pushing the boundaries of his working relationships with them which makes for uncomfortable yet hilarious viewing. Despite how exaggerated the trait is in Michael, it is a relatable one nonetheless, particularly in this age of social media where everyone is a small business of one – hoping to get more views and more likes on their content.
Love me or Hate me
So, we’ve established that people long to be liked and care more about it than they would admit. Yet, it’s impossible to be liked everywhere by everyone, so how do we reconcile our fantasy with our actual reality; that more often than none, people will strongly dislike you for no (obvious) reason.
Two things should be noted here:
- In the face of hatred always remember the people that love you – they’re the ones that see something special in you, and will always be your biggest fans. You realise how rare such people are when you realise how unkind the world can be. Never neglect these people or take their appreciation of you for granted!
- Be open and willing to take criticism: Dare I say it; sometimes a person’s disliking of you may have valid roots. I remember being close to a friend at university; we would often have random banter or go to society events together. After a few months had gone by I realised we hadn’t met up in a while and messaged her because I missed her company.‘Hey, we haven’t met up in a while, I hope you’re okay… blah blah’
As we discussed how quiet it had been between us, she admitted honestly ‘you always bail out of things we arrange to do and it’s annoying’. At the time I was obviously a bit annoyed and met that response with a flurry of denial. But looking back, what If she was right and in pointing out my flakiness had highlighted a bad habit I had overlooked?
That last point in particular makes a case for importance of self-reflection – sometimes it can be the key to spotting not so obvious bad habits in us before others do.
Then again, self-reflection can be a double-edged sword sometimes, as I find with myself, if we do it too often, too deeply we may find ourselves annoyed about traits we don’t need to change or can’t change [easily] but feel pressured to do so anyway.
There are no simple solutions to staying out of these mental thought traps (unfortunately.) It is worth reimagining it as a tight rope balance between self-worth and likability. The former shouldn’t depend on the latter, it should be something unshakable at our core. Of course, the reality is much different from this ideal, but there’s no harm in keeping it as something we can aim towards, right?