On Being Liked (A Goodbye to the Iron Lady)

“If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.” –Margaret Thatcher, 1989, commenting on her 10th anniversary as prime minister

I’m not a political junkie, and honestly things like dates and history just don’t stick in my head very well. But to hear that Margaret Thatcher had passed away yesterday still caused me to stop in my tracks.

Margaret Thatcher was more than a politician, more than Prime Minister, and more than a woman who broke a glass ceiling. She was a force. She set out to fight for what she believed in, not to make friends.

There are many reasons, of course, that we operate ina system where being liked is one of our greatest values. Some of them are even very reasonable and pragmatic. But honestly, it’s a value that I hate.

As Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In, the need to be liked is often used to keep us in check. And when it comes to women at least, success makes other people like us less.

So don’t be too successful. In fact, don’t stick your head out too far in any direction if you want to be liked. Don’t devote your free time to role-playing games or art or things that are off-trend. But don’t get too close tot eh middle of the box either–no one likes boring.

The ironic thing about this, of course, is that nothing draws people in like someone who is genuine. When you are confidently and calmly yourself, true and unshakeable, people have a way of falling in line behind you.

That doesn’t mean everyone will like you. It might even get harder for a while. Maybe a long while.

But even if it gets harder, it also gets easier.

It gets easier because you’re not filtering yourself through layers all the time. It gets easier because all that energy you used to put into censoring yourself can now pour into your passions. And when you start doing that, you tend to uncover things are much more important and much more rewarding than being liked.


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