I was never popular at school. I was seen as arrogant and cold, somebody who was too sure of themselves without good reason. I didn't have many friends, and was only liked by teachers because I was quiet in class and did my work.
Nowadays, if I meet somebody I know from back then, it's usually the same story -- at best I'll get a frigid nod of acknowledgment. At worst, that person will suddenly become preoccupied with their phone and pretend not to have seen me. On one occasion, when I was at a hous eparty, a guy grabbed me and said, laughing:
"Most people think you're a dick Chris, but I get you, I think you're all right." The mother of all backhanded compliments, I'm sure you'll agree.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend that it's OK not to be liked, because it isn't. It is a personal affront, somebody saying you're not good enough, or funny enough, or smart enough. You end up on the Internet looking at articles about how to make yourself more likeable. According to what you read, it's because you're not genuine, or you're too judgmental, or you're too insecure. It's always because of something you did, or something you don't do. In other words, it's all your fault.
You read how important first impressions are, or that you should keep smiling and engaging in prolonged eye contact with people to show that you're interested in what they're saying (not that that's weird at all). You try and change your body language to make yourself seem more approachable and "open." You end up spending hours wondering what you need to do to "fix" yourself so it doesn't happen with the next person you meet.
Well screw that. Screw fixing yourself.
I have an important message for the less "likeable" among you -- you don't have to change for anybody.
Here are some ways you can try to be you, without giving a rat's ass what people think.
1. Stop trying to fit in
I had a group of friends in my early school years who were all of a certain background. They came from well-educated families, with parents who had respectable jobs and who could afford to buy them the high-end schoolbags. They were the type of kids who always turned up on the first day of school with a new pencil case filled with protractors and shiny new rulers.
They were different to me. Looking back now, it was obvious that we were never going to make long-lasting friendships.
Still, for a whole school year I pretended to like what they liked, and listened in jealously as they talked about the shows they watched on cable TV. They knew about the best bands, they had the best clothes. Eventually, I was ditched from the "group" because I kept turning them down whenever they went out, never being able to afford to go.
The fact that they weren't from the same background from me is mostly besides the point. I just wasn't interested in the same things they were, but I thought that staying with them was better than the alternative of having nobody to stand with at lunchtime. Looking back now, it wasted a lot of time that could have been more productively spent, which brings me neatly to my next point:
2. Follow your own interests
There's a line in the film Little Miss Sunshine that goes, "Do what you love, and f**k the rest." We should all care less about how others perceive us, and have the bravery to follow our own interests. If you like staying in and reading books, do that. If you're a connoisseur of French cinema, go watch it. Have the courage to do what you want to do, and realize that nobody can stop you from doing it unless you allow it.
3. Be Better at Spotting Jealousy
Continuing with the movie theme, there's a line in The Pursuit of Happyness where Will Smith has an emotional chat with his son. It goes like this;
"Don't ever let somebody tell you, you can't do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream? You gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they want to tell you you can't do it. You want something? Go get it? Period!"
As well as being one of the best motivational speeches in modern film, it's also an important message. Some people get upset when they see others do well. We all get a twinge of jealousy when we see a rival achieve something we haven't, but some take it to extremes.
It's easy to recognize these people -- they're the ones who can write better than you, or do your job better, or pick things up quicker. They're the ones who point out the flaws in your plans, or the risks in your actions. Learn to avoid these naysayers, who will project their own failings onto you and judge you as less "likeable" for the privilege.
4. Stop Auditioning
Hopefully you're at an age, like I am, where you realize that you don't have to perform for people any more. You have your close-knit group of friends -- maybe one or two you would trust with anything, and a wider circle of acquaintances. Being with them isn't an effort, or a show in which you have to play a part.
But if you're not quite there yet, realize that you can stop auditioning for people now. If somebody can't see the value in you or your talents, that isn't your fault -- it's theirs, and their show will suffer for your absence.
If you take one thing from this article, let it be this --
You don't have to be likeable, you just have to be you.