It’s OK if people don’t like you

Worrying about what other people think of you kills innovation, creation and doing things that really matter

Have an opinion. An idea. And let people know about it. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Some people don’t like me.

It’s taken many, many years. But I accept this fact now.

Until maybe sixth or seventh grade I was blissfully unaware. I would just be me, however weird or annoying that might be, and I didn’t think twice that maybe someone didn’t like it. Or me.

At a certain point, your brain changes and all of a sudden the only thing that matters is acceptance. You want to fit in. You need to fit in.

I played piano since I was seven and was really good at it. Later, I found it out it wasn’t that cool. So when I got my name in the local paper for coming in second in a state piano competition, I was horrified. I didn’t want people to know, because playing the piano wasn’t cool.

Through middle and high school, I would constantly filter what was in my brain before it would leave my mouth. Will people think what I’m saying is cool? Will they approve of what I’m saying? Will they think more of me?

The pressure was quashing all of the original thoughts running through my brain. This pressure was quashing me.

I was trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. Ironically by doing this, they probably thought even less of me.

The more we’re different, the greater our potential

People drawn to a creative field share similar character traits. They are sensitive. Intuitively aware of others’ feelings. This gives them a unique and rare insight into the human condition. It gives them a hyper-sensitivity to what others are feeling and thinking.

It also gives them a hyper-sensitivity to what others think of them. So sometimes they hold back, in fear that their thoughts or ideas might make someone else mad or upset.

If you believe in something you need to express it, regardless of what others might think. All of us have the potential to come up with game-changing ideas or plans of action. Maybe even world-changing.

Keeping your ideas inside limits your potential to do something amazing.

A Team of Individuals

Each of us brings something special to the world. It’s the combination of our unique genetics, backgrounds, upbringing and experiences that provides each of us a unique perspective.

Bringing people together with those unique perspectives is where the power is.

There are answers to important questions inside each of us. The trick is getting them out. To tease them out, we need to be challenged. We need to discuss and debate. We need to push each other to bring out our best.

If we worry about what other people think, if we don’t allow ourselves to be ourselves in these situations, then we limit our collective ability to do our best.

We also limit ourselves when we get selfish, defensive or insecure in these situations. It’s not easy, but learn to celebrate the process of debate. Celebrate when something amazing comes from someone else. And on the flip side, don’t be afraid to challenge by offering up alternative ideas.

In those moments you need the ego to assert what you believe. At the same time, you need the complete lack of ego to be open to ideas that are not yours.

Understand that it’s not about whose idea it is, but it’s about the idea itself. Ideas may be birthed by one of us but they are usually conceived by all of us.

Ideas may be birthed by one of us but they are usually conceived by all of us.

We Don’t Always Have to Get Along

None of us are perfect. Far from it. The goal is not to change who we are in the hope to please others. Yes be nice and thoughtful, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with everybody.

You can still be nice and disagree.

In fact, disagreement, discussion and debate are essential to getting to the truth. Nothing truly new is created with consensus.

Problem is, disagreement can be uncomfortable and threatening.

You have to care deeply about others, but at the same time have zero care about what they think of you.

Love and respect are different than liking and agreeing.

In the moment, I may not agree with you, or even like you. But in the big picture, I can love and respect you.

The Rules of Engagement

If you’re going to work together, challenge and debate each other, then there are some basic “necessities” to making that work.

I’ll use our company as an example. We’re a creative studio that makes a lot of things. Identity systems. Websites. Marketing and Social Content.

These are things we make. But what we really do every day is a little bigger, a little simpler than that:

We are in service of doing better.

We challenge each other to answer questions, solve problems, plan and create opportunities that makes our clients better, their brands better, and ourselves better. (And I know this may be a bit much, ideally make the world a bit better).

We may all be different, but we share the common trait of wanting to do better every time we are tasked with something new.

In short, to work together in the most effective way (and to work for us) you need three things:

  1. An intense desire to make things better.
  2. A unique perspective on the world.
  3. An actionable idea that you can clearly explain and defend.

First, you either have this intense desire, or you don’t. I’ve worked with enough people to see the difference. People who have this desire see every single project as an opportunity to do something great. Throughout each project, they obsess about it and never stop thinking about how to make it better. They ride an intense internal rollercoaster of fear and exhilaration.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

If you instantly relate to and understand this Leonardo da Vinci quote, then you have this desire.

Everyone has a unique perspective. You just have to be brave enough to share it in an honest and true way.

The third is the most important in debate and discussion. You need to be armed with ideas, valid thoughts that you are passionate about and believe in.

An idea is not an opinion on other ideas. Do not debate ideas based on what’s wrong with other people’s ideas. Debate by offering up alternative ideas. Have ideas that challenge other ideas.

An idea is not an opinion on other ideas.
It’s not enough to just disagree with an idea. Challenge ideas with other ideas.

If I think something should be “blue” don’t just tell me it shouldn’t be blue. Tell me what it should it be, and why. It’s not enough to disagree with an idea, you need to have your own idea.

Making a difference

The biggest limiting factor in doing something that really makes a difference is caring too much what others think of you.

Don’t let the fear of disappointing someone, or making someone mad or hurting someone’s feelings get in your way.

We all want to be loved. At the same time, if we want to maximize our potential, we have to accept that, sometimes, we may not be liked.

About me: I’m a Partner/Creative Director at Teak in San Francisco. I’m from Colorado, moved to Chicago for 8 years then settled down in San Anselmo, California (the birthplace of mountain biking) with my wife to raise two amazing kids. I’m a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos and Peet’s Coffee.

This is me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read my previous Medium article here.