When I was little I had a group of neighbor children who wouldn’t play with me one day because my aunt (who was a hair stylist) gave me a fancy up-do. It was hot and I have a ton of hair, so she put it on top of my head in barrel curls. I loved it. Then when I went out to play with my friends, one girl picked on me and said she couldn’t play with me because my hair looked funny. Girls can be so mean to each other. But you know what, I said, “so what” and moved on.
After years of coaching, I see a pattern shared by a lot of women — not all women — but many women do this and don’t even realize it. They play small so that people will like them. In our personal lives we try not to outshine our friends. We don’t want them to feel inadequate. We don’t dress too nice when we go out or the other girls won’t like us.
It’s ingrained in us from when we are children. We’re taught to be nice little girls, to not make waves, to be pretty and sit quietly. Little boys are not treated this way and don’t expect to be. It carries through into adulthood and into the workplace. If men voice an opinion at work, they are strong independent thinkers. If women have an opinion at work, they are being unpleasant, or worse, they are considered bitches. It’s an unfair practice that needs to stop with our children.
It’s not just the workplace, it’s in our everyday lives. We go to a restaurant and if our food is not prepared the way we like it, we say it’s fine and we eat it anyway. We don’t send it back because we don’t want to make waves. The server may not like us. We get bad service at a store and we don’t complain to the manager because we don’t want people to not like us.
In our businesses, we have a customer who complains and we bend over backwards to make them happy. We may even go to unreasonable lengths to compensate for them not liking our product. It’s important to have great customer service. It’s not necessary to take abuse from a customer. If the product was faulty or damaged in shipping, of course you will make amends. If the customer decides they don’t like the product or misuses it, you don’t need to compensate them just so they keep liking you. Who cares what they say about you on Yelp or elsewhere?
I’m not saying you should be rude. But women sometimes go too far in the opposite direction.
Why Do You Need People To Like You?
As women we are very good at playing nice. We think we will be successful if people like us. We think in order to survive we need to be liked, so we play small, we don’t speak up in meetings, we dumb down, and we end up not liking ourselves.
You’ll find in life that when you stand up and shine, people may be offended. But those people are living in fear. You know what, who cares? Just like on the playground, they weren’t my true friends. I found other friends who weren’t intimidated by my special hairstyle or my new dress or my shoes or my brilliant idea at work. You’ll find new clients and customers who love your product and respect it.
How do you let it go? It’s difficult, I know. Ask yourself, “so what?” So what if so-and-so doesn’t like you? So what if your blog post offends someone? You can’t control how people will feel. Not everyone is going to like you. And you know what? They are not your people. If they can’t love you for what you like and believe, they don’t belong in your world. You will find your people, in life and in business. You’ll find them by being who you truly are. You can’t be everything to everybody, or you end up being nothing to no one.
You have to be brave enough to let go of the people who don’t belong in your world. It makes room for the people who do belong in your world. You will lose people because you’re no longer willing to play small to be liked by them. And that’s OK.
Be an Inspiration
Think of the people you admire. They are not out there trying to be liked. They are out there being themselves, unapologetically sharing something important with the world. You can bet they have haters, but for every hater, they have 100 times more people who absolutely adore them. Oprah comes to mind. She’s out there being herself, insecurities and all. There are a lot of people who can’t stand Oprah. But there are millions who love her for who she is. She didn’t find those people by trying to be liked. She found them by being true to herself. And now she is worth an estimated $3 billion.
How about Hillary Clinton? She has her haters, plenty of them. But she has people who love her and vote for her. She could have been a delicate flower as First Lady while her husband was President. But she drafted a health care bill and later served in the New York Senate and as Secretary of State. She could have remained a small-town lawyer, maybe became a judge in her later years. But she had the gumption to run for President, twice. She’s not hiding her light. And she has people screaming hate about her all day long on every news program. Like her or not. Be in her tribe or not. She’s not playing small.
Look at Misty Copeland. Everyone told her she couldn’t be a prima ballerina. She’s only 5’2″ and muscular and has breasts. And, oh my god, her skin is a different color. She could have shied away and decided to become a dance teacher is some small town. But she stayed true to herself, worked hard to be the best, and now she is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. She’s changing people’s minds about what a perfect ballerina looks like. I’m sure there are people who don’t like her. But she has a large group of people who adore her for who she is. She’s an inspiration to little girls everywhere.
Being authentic requires a lot of awareness on your part. Practice it. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger as you work it out. When you find yourself playing small for others, stop yourself. If people throw hate your way say, “So what?” Focus on people who love you for you. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. But that’s how you find your tribe (as Seth Godin calls it).
Don’t deprive people of what you have to offer. Let your light shine bright, so your true people can find you.