First off, I feel I should be upfront - I’m a former people-pleaser, not a current. Over the past year I’ve shed my people-pleasing cloak, forfeiting my membership to the ‘what-do-you-think-she-meant-by-that?’ club, and graduating to evenings unmarred by concerns that escalate into worries that escalate into dread.
As with most of us, my harshest critic is myself. But not long ago, I gave more shits about what my peers thought of me than what I thought of myself. Which is unsurprising, given that my livelihood is built around likes and views, little hearts and numbers not only validating, but dictating the value of what I produce. I’m under no grandiose illusions as to the merit of my work, by the way. I’m a bad-at-budgeting, mid-twenty something taking pretty pictures and sharing glorified journal entries. I know what I do isn’t important - and it isn’t something tangible you can hold in your hands either - but as with any creative type, every letter and every word contains a little bit of my love, and each pixel is precious to me.
I received an Instagram DM not long ago asking how I deal with criticism online, and how to stay motivated and push on when somebody is actively trying to demean what you do.
This was my answer: if somebody finds pleasure in trying to make me feel bad about myself - unfounded, of course - then that’s a reflection on them, not on me. Go back and reread that, because that understanding relieves you from hours of wasted time, worrying about what you could do differently or should do less of. What somebody says about you speaks more of their character, than it does of yours.
If someone doesn’t like me, then okay. Not everybody is going to like me. And I don’t mean that in the empty sense of saying the words but not believing the premise, I mean it in as matter-of-fact as these words are black and digitised on your screen. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to be a good person - and an approachable, compassionate one at that - but since we all have our own likes and dislikes, me addressing everybody as ‘queen’ and not entertaining even the slightest whisper of a “traditional” men-are-the-bread-winners relationship, is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.
Think of it likes this: you know when you have a friend which you adore - humour, perspective, ability to look good in Kohl eyeliner - and they ask if they can introduce you to their other mate? You're thinking “cor, yes, I am going to LOVE her”, except you meet her, and you don’t, because you are polar opposites. She doesn’t appreciate music on any level and you’re constantly glued to your headphones. She hits the gym at 6:30am every morning and you’re perfecting your post-10am warm cinnamon bun impression, a la Homer Simpson. She’s bitchy in a supermodel, sassy way and you stop every dog you walk past to make sure they know they’re a really good boy. You’re simply incompatible, and you’re thinking, “how the fuck is my friend, friends with her?!”
It’s because we all value different things in different people, even if those qualities aren’t necessarily the same across the board. I have gal pals from different friendship groups who would be like chalk and cheese should they meet, but the respective relationships we share with each other are built on a mutual understanding of qualities we recognise and appreciate. Some of my friends I drink with, some of my friends I nap with, some of my friends I discuss alternative R’n’B with and some of my friends I exclusively exchange memes with, ad just as there are some people who - no matter what they might be able to offer - I just don’t want to be around, there are a sea of people who feel absolutely the same way about me.
Being liked is not important. Being valued is.
Picture this. Say you wear a red bodycon dress on a night out, and as you’re leaving the women’s toilets, you hear two girls sniggering about how unflattering the fit is. Instinctively your stomach drops, and you pick up the pace to escape what you feel is embarrassment as soon as you can, with your gut reaction urging you to go home and stay home.
But wait, because you love the dress. You love the cut, you love the colour, and you value yourself in it. Your friends have already complimented the fierceness of the look, and actually, you spent £35 on this plus £6.99 for next day delivery, so you’re going to fucking wear it. Who do you offer more power to? The people who don’t know you, and don’t care about what makes you feel good (the colour red, no doubt), or those that understand that putting on a badass dress is a form of expression and self-love for you? Who will you give more power? Those who seek to pull you down for the benefit of their own ego, or the person who knows you best of all - yourself?
This is a hypothetical situation of course, and the red dress a symbol. A symbol for anything we take a risk in sharing or creating or being. The red dress if your SoundCloud song or your sexuality or your latest, personal blog post. The red dress is anything which offers up a little piece of yourself - a little piece of vulnerability - and accepts the risk that it may not be well-received. The red dress is the decider between granting power to those who we seek to please, or granting power to ourselves to let it go.
I have (for the most part) stopped caring what people think of me because I’m more concerned with what I think of myself. If I’m proud of what I’ve created - whether that be something I’ve written or photographed - then that is enough for me. Of course, I still get a buzz off of positive comments or praise from a client, and I can’t pretend that I’m always so successful in not letting other’s back-handed comments burrow into the back of my mind, but for the most part, I don’t give a shit if somebody calls me out on my double chin or my wonky eyes or if they plain and simple don’t like me. I value myself, and I’m not going to channel my energy in trying to convince someone that actually, I’m an okay person, if they’re not even open to hearing it. And honestly, being a people-pleaser has more to do with seeking validation due to a lack of self worth, than it does with wanting people as individual, human beings to care. It's more about proving you're worth liking, than wanting to be close with those you seek that 'like' from.
What somebody says about you doesn’t define you. Reflect on all you have to be grateful for, and understand that somebody’s opinion of you - however unfair - doesn’t detract from that. If you want somebody to like you because you feel you’ve wronged them previously, then by all means, make amends (we should all be able to accept criticism for our shitty actions), but if you’re incompatible and said person is closed off to ever entertaining any other perception of you, then my girl -
- let it go.
Value yourself, and value those in turn who see the good in you. You don’t need to please everybody, just be passionate and proud of whoever it is you happen to be.
Yours with a very full heart,