There's always someone that you long to win over, isn't there? In my experience there is often a few of those people. Maybe it's the in-laws, a colleague at work or a chronically distant and hard to please family member, or even a parent. No matter what you say to these people, it always feels like it's never enough.
The erudite and charming can be left flustered, embarrassed and lost for words in the wake of what feels like continuous disapproval, disinterest and, well, just plain irritation. It's not fair, is it? You come armed with witty and topical conversation points, your arsenal of jokes, but still, you're left with the interactional equivalent of a long, slow hand clap after everything you say.
Well, maybe that's the problem. Much like what I've written about people-pleasing before, when all signs point to stalemate, why do we still spend so much of our energy on trying to win that select few around?
Humans seem to be hardwired to gain the approval and acceptance of everyone around them. Maybe it's something to do with survival; it benefits us that everyone around us is an ally. But I'm not talking about evolutionary biology here, and it seems that our fragile egos and sense of self-preservation haven't quite shaken off that pesky hunter-gatherer thing. But here's what it's not letting you or I realize: Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to get it.
And you know what? That's just fine.
It's hard work changing yourself to suit every situation. It's hard work over thinking everything you say to make sure it's just right, and it's hard work having your only validation come from the reactions and approval of others. It's crushing when there are those from which that approval may never come.
So here's to being yourself. It's more than understandable to want to impress your in-laws, it's natural to want to gain the respect of your colleagues and your boss, and to please your family. And you can. You create a life with your spouse or your partner built on love, respect and the work that goes in to growing together. You work your ass off and do great things in your job. You live an authentic and happy life that teaches you and nourishes you and pleases YOU.
And that in-law, colleague and family member may never say, "Hey, you're great! What you've done here is excellent. Let's go for a beer!" and that has to be okay. Because that will happen. There will be that one person that you can't win around, who will never be your best friend, and you can't go on living your life for that person.
You could be a life-saving, mountain-climbing, Nobel-poetry-writing beacon of human perfection and I would still bet that there would be someone out there for whom you're just not their cup of tea. And we pander to these people because they disrupt our sense of self-esteem. "What can I do to make Mrs Jones down the street like me more?" Do you like everyone you meet? Didn't think so...
What can we do to like ourselves more?
We have an amazing ability to forget all of the good, positive and emotionally nourishing people in our lives, and focus, laser-like and unwavering, on that one person that just won't catch. We convince ourselves that we'll find that one thing that will win them over, that you'll gain their adulation, their friendship and their respect.
Instead of getting myself caught in an endless cycle of approval-seeking, I like to take a step back from the situation. When I feel that rush of thoughts about how I can impress and convince someone to like me, like me, like me I take a little look at the evidence and ask myself the question: Who am I doing this for? Whose business am I concerned with here? Whose greater goals am I contributing to?
I suppose the core choice here is between living an authentic life -- or an approvable one. When all is said and done and you look back on the choices you've made, what will concern you more -- whether your colleagues greeted you with ebullient "Good Mornings," your father-in-law wanting to watch the game with you? Or living in a way that felt honest, good and true?
When it comes to living honestly and fearlessly, I believe Bernard Baruch said it best: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."