“WHY DO I CARE?” said the text message. “It’s crazy! It’s consuming me.” I sent a long string of texts back, each blue bubble popping up something less and less comforting and more and more commiserating. My friend was in the throes of an unfriendly situation at work – the kind of thing that’s so entirely unspoken you’re not even sure if it’s real. Someone doesn’t smile at you when you come in, you get an e-mail that could be snippy, you said something that was probably normal (or was it weird? am I weird?). One of those pervasive, cold feelings that I for one can never shake – someone doesn’t like me, and for some godforsaken reason, I actually care.
There’s another layer to it, too – I care that I care. My morning coffee is ruined by brusque voicemail from my dentist, and then my afternoon tea is ruined by the fact that I let a voicemail from a dentist ruin my coffee. There I am, all of my hot drinks ruined, while the dentist just cheerfully moves on with his life, drilling things and mixing special glues (? actually unsure as to what dentists do with their time).
Look, being liked is really nice. It makes me feel good about myself and it makes it more pleasant to collaborate with people. It’s warm and it’s fuzzy – it’s the free teddy bear of achievements. Gives you something to hold onto at night, doesn’t need to be particularly high quality to be pleasant, and is just cute enough that you have trouble giving it away.
Here’s the thing, though – another thing that will make you feel good about yourself is doing excellent work. Excellent work almost certainly requires shredding the mantle of universal likeability, but my need to cling on to that fuzzy teddy bear of likeability stands like an avalanche in my way. (Not to say I don’t do good work – but I’m talking the next level stuff, here). I’m hiding the teddy bear in my backpack while I clamber over the rocks, only to be kicked back down because something will always, always snag on that likeability.
So what do I do about it? My friend that’s stuck in an office of mean girls is still stuck there. I’m still a little bit crushed every time I get a rude e-mail (I’m a lawyer – I get a lot of rude e-mails). I’m trying to drop that backpack. Just like in every adventure story, where at some point the hero has to choose between living and all of their precious gear, I’m letting it go.
To be clear – I’m not advocating that everyone be rude to each other, or that being liked doesn’t matter at all. No, I’m suggesting that we seek to be admired and respected rather than adored. I’m suggesting just sending the damn e-mail without worrying about whether or not it sounds too curt without an exclamation mark and a smiley. I’m suggesting that you look at all of this with the perspective of that one colleague, the one you know has never once considered whether their e-mail sounds too curt without some fancy punctuation.
Be efficient, be kind, be smart and inspiring. Let go of the teddy bear – you’ll miss it at first, but you can’t swim rivers and climb mountains with unnecessary weight on your back. You can do it.