Don’t Focus on Being Momentarily Popular. Focus on Being Missed When You’re Gone.

Not being you will destroy you.

Photo: Hean Prinsloo/Unsplash

“In order to be liked, though, you might have to trade in your true, venerable self for a short term-focused obsession with pleasing the masses.” — Seth Godin

Most people are more concerned with being popular than being their true selves.

It’s understandable. As Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr, put it: “What is more thrilling than an entire hall of expectant eyes, what more overwhelming that applause surging up to us? …Attention by other people is the most irresistible of drugs.” Our whole lives, we’ve basically been playing a simple game with one major goal: get as many people as you can to like you.

The problem is, when you focus on being popular instead of being yourself, the result is always the same:


It sounds weird, but it’s true. Let me explain.

Being popular is fun. It’s exhilarating to feel that, no matter what happens, people like you. They’ll stand by you, they’ll praise you, they’ll give you attention and place you on a pedestal for all others to see. For most people, other people’s attention is an irresistible drug.

But as Seth Godin explains in The Icarus Deception, popularity only gets you so far. Eventually, you’ll have to start pulling your own weight, creating rules instead of following them.

This is where most people freeze; they’ve spent so long focusing on pleasing other people, they have no idea how to be their true selves, doing things because they want to, not because someone is looking. This always leads to anxiety, unhappiness, and constantly trying to fight your way back into the spotlight.

As my friend Tim Denning once wrote:

“Not being you will destroy you.”

Don’t focus on momentary popularity. You don’t want a host of fair-weather friends, you want real connections with great people.

Focus on being missed when you’re gone.

How To Unlearn Limiting Mindsets That Prioritize Popularity and Being Liked

“Seeking to become popular is not hardwired into human nature.” — Seth Godin

The reason most people are unhappy is because their priorities are wrong.

See, most people prize gadgets, appearances, and the attention of others over what makes them feel truly alive. Their lives revolve around other people and the validations/affirmations other people give. Unfortunately, these people are usually the least qualified to pass judgement on your life.

There’s a scene in Rick and Morty where Rick walks into a crowded auditorium and is immediately met by boos. His response is priceless:

“Your boos mean nothing, I’ve seen what makes you cheer!”

It’s time to unlearn these mindsets. Not set them aside, not modify them, not tweak them. It’s time to completely unlearn negative mindsets that prioritize popularity and being liked.

If you’re willing to look stupid for long enough, you’ll eventually become a millionaire.

You’ll eventually develop extreme self-confidence.

You’ll eventually lose your fear of other people.

You’ll eventually become more fully alive than ever before.

You just have to wait longer than most people are willing to wait. Popularity and other people’s attention are double-edged swords: praise and applause are an irresistible drug, but boos and jeering are extreme deterrents that stop most people in their tracks.

If you depend on other people’s affection to be successful, you’re also giving them the power to destroy your self-worth.

Fear of other people is usually what stops people from taking big risks and putting in massive action towards goals that might not make sense to other people.

In college, I decided to study English. Over the years, I got used to the subtle-yet-unmistakable condescending questions about how stupid I was to choose English as my major.

“You know there are no jobs for English majors, right?”

“Hmm…what are you planning on doing with your degree?”

It sucked. I hated second-guessing myself and seeing yet another listicle naming “English” as one of the top 10 worst college majors.

I had a friend who wanted to study English with me, but he took these criticisms to heart. He actually enrolled as an Electrical Engineering major, a topic he had no interest in and no desire to study.

When I asked him why, his answer was simple:

“There’s money and jobs. Everyone wants to hire an Electrical Engineer.”

He ended up dropping out of his major two years in because he couldn’t stand the monotony, saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary student loan debt.

Don’t choose popularity and being liked. Choose to be truly yourself, and do the things you want to do.

One of my favorite children’s books is You Are Special by Max Lucado. It tells the story of Punchinello, a wooden Wimmick that believes he isn’t good enough because others reject him. Wimmick society is based on two factors: how many gold stars (good) others give you, or how many gray dots (bad) others force on you.

Burdened with dozens of gray dots, Punchinello is sad and lonely. No one accepts him. How can he get others to like him? Everything he tries fails.

Eventually, he’s surprised to meet another Wimmick with no marks — no gold stars, no gray dots. This Wimmick has learned the secret to being happy: she doesn’t let the praise or criticism of others affect anything she does. She just does what makes her most happy.

Don’t let others dictate how you feel. Choose for yourself what you want.

“You can’t let the actions of others define your reality.” — Stephen Pressfield

Stop Letting Others Reward You. Reward Yourself and You’ll Never Have to Try and Get People To Like You.

After eight years of intense, in-depth therapy, I’ve learned that as long as you look to others for validation, you’ll never be truly happy. People aren’t gods — they’re people; broken, selfish, and imperfect.

For a long time, especially when I was younger, I looked to certain family members for validation and affirmation. Like many kids, I looked to adults and grownups to tell me if I was a good boy.

Unfortunately, I rarely got the validation I needed.

The result? Broke, addicted, depressed, and virtually no self-worth, I reached a crossroads after college: get help, or struggle with self-hatred for the rest of my life.

I decided to go to therapy.

I had one image during a therapy session that I never forgot: it was me as a child, in the middle of a terrible storm. I was alone, desperately yelling for help…yet no one came. The storm was overtaking me.

It basically summed up my emotional state for the past 15 years. But through therapy, I learned how to look at God, my friends, and other loved ones for support. Even if I couldn’t get validation and affirmation from the ones I needed it from most, I could still be a thriving adult.

I could be kind to myself, and cut out my over-reliance on others to make me feel, “I am okay.”

It’s hard to let go of other people, using them as your crutch to make it through the day.

I spent years using other people as crutches, especially pretty girls. I reached a place where I thought that if a pretty girl liked me, it meant I was worthy, that I was OK. Pretty girls didn’t like just anyone! If they liked me, I felt good.

Of course, it never lasted. I had lots of girlfriends, and I used each one as my personal security blanket — if I didn’t have them, I wasn’t OK. When they left, it was like I was naked in a raging hurricane, and I needed to find another pretty girl to make me feel safe again.

Finally, I stopped this stupid behavior. I learned how to be OK being alone, being with myself. It was hard — I didn’t like myself. I was ashamed of myself. I thought I was a coward with no discipline and nothing to give.

But it worked. Eventually, I found the love of my life using this new mindset, my now-wife.

Stop looking to others for rewards. They can’t give you what you need. Focus on loving yourself, on giving yourself what you need: kindness, gifts, and self-love.

There’s a line written by the rapper Eminem in his song rap God that I always think back to: “I bully myself ‘cause I make me do what I put my mind to.

For a long time, I bullied myself, trying to get the things I wanted. I followed all the self-help gurus and their goal-setting strategies based on rigid discipline and unflinching hard work.

It never worked. I just hated myself and grew to resent my teachers.

But through therapy, I learned to be kind to myself. I’m one of the most ambitious people I know, but I try to be the most kind to myself than anyone else is.

When you stop looking to others for affection and rewards, you create a vacuum. We all need affirmation and validation.

Replace it with your own validation, through kindness and love towards yourself. Don’t bully yourself, pushing yourself to the limit to try and achieve huge goals.

Go slowly, and prioritize your mental health. Don’t look to others for this: give it to yourself.

In Conclusion

If you want stop focusing on popularity, you can finally focus on creating good, true, noble work that truly helps people.

You can evolve from an insecure “influencer” to someone people will actually miss when you’re gone.

I received a really nice email from a reader of mine:

“Do you know you come across as such a warm person? Is that what you are really like? I love getting e-mails from you.”

I’ve fought hard — against myself, the world, even the people around me — to become a warm, kind person. The kind of person people actually miss when I’m gone, who look forward to seeing me.

I’ve been able to build a six-figure business doing this, but more importantly, I’m able to wake up each day happy to be me — something I could not have honestly said for most of my life.

Don’t focus on being popular. Focus on helping others, and being missed when you’re gone.

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