Like most people, my teen years were spent trying my hardest to get people to like me. Of course, I started a bit behind the eight ball. I wasn’t from one of the big names in our community, I was a little too smart for my own good, and I had a myriad of health issues that those around me chose to mock rather than understand. I had a rough road of it.
Eventually, as I got older, I discovered that being liked isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, it’s predicated on a great deal of nonsense. For example, people treat you like the clothes you wear, this is especially true as a teenager. If you’re not wearing the latest designer “whatever,” you’ll never make it to the “in” crowd.
But it’s not just clothing, and it’s certainly not limited to teenage years. Adults are possibly worse about judging people based on what neighborhood they choose to live in, what car they drive, the breed of dog they have for a pet, and so on. It’s actually pretty ridiculous.
As a teen, what your family does for a living can drop you into a different social category as well. My family was a mixed bag — teachers, truckers, farmers, tradespeople, and food service. No doctors or lawyers or whatever else it is that makes you “worthy” of standing out, even in a farm town like ours.
And just to be clear, education has nothing to do with being a better person. Some of the most highly educated people I’ve known over the years have been terrible human beings. On the flip side, the welcoming, rural, townsfolk you see in Norman Rockwell paintings are often the exact opposite. They can also be closed-minded, rude, and unwelcoming.
Probably worst of all are people who believe they’re better than they are and spend their time putting others down so they can feel more important. It never seems to matter what socioeconomic group the individuals are in either. Ignorance crosses racial, economic, ethnic, and political divides.
The point of all of this is to say this. I was spending so much time trying to be liked, it took me years to figure out that what I really needed was respect. According to the dictionary definition, “respect” means to be regarded highly, and that aligns more towards what we should all want.
Consider how much more fulfilling it is personally when we are appreciated for our efforts, whether personal or professional. Having the respect of those around us carries with it a sense of accomplishment and pride.
But it’s not in a boastful or arrogant way, but in the personal satisfaction that we have made a valuable contribution. Without respect and appreciation, motivation wanes and it’s tough to recover.
Respect doesn’t happen because you drive the right kind of car or live in a certain type of home. As we have examined here, anyone who likes you for those reasons is most likely very superficial and incredibly insecure in their own world.
Respect is given to and comes from people of good character who recognize individual value and integrity. We should strive to be respected, not liked, and spend our time learning to respect others for who and what they are.
That doesn’t mean you must agree with them all the time. In fact, sometimes it means the exact opposite. I prefer to surround myself with people who have their own mind and are willing to disagree with me secure that, while I may not share their opinion, I value their point of view.
The start of a new year is a great time to consider what kind of people with which you prefer to surround yourself, both personally and professionally. While you can’t always choose family or at workmates, you can decide to limit your exposure.
Do yourself a favor, stop trying to be liked and cut loose those who do not respect you. It might sound harsh, but you deserve better. And don’t forget to give yourself a little of that respect too. Remember what Dr. Seuss said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Happy New Year.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communication, Ltd. More at geryldeer.com.