Imagine your life as a YouTube video. You work hard on the content, edit and tinker till it’s attractive and presentable, then upload the results for all to see. Your URL goes live and your video becomes accessible to the public.
Quite soon, something startling happens. Among the hundreds of ‘likes’ you’ve accrued, you discover that twenty or so mean-spirited individuals have hit ‘dislike.’ They actually went to the time and trouble to let you know that they disapproved of you.
You’re staggered. It’s like they looked at you, a whole human being, and voted ‘no.’
How do you react?
For most people, social disapproval is not just uncomfortable; it’s actually a worst-case scenario. There’s a reason that Public Speaking is regularly cited as the world’s number one fear, and it has nothing to do with the mechanics of speaking itself; it is simply that the act of standing before a group and expressing yourself is the quintessential forum for evaluation and judgement by strangers.
We fear disapproval.
Or at least, we do when we are starting out.
Serious career-builders quickly ascertain that this fear is completely counter-productive. Of course someone out there is going to disapprove of you. It will happen whether you sit safely in your cubicle and never do anything (Such a wall-flower! No spine!), or you become the office superstar and revolutionize the industry (Who does this glory-hound think she is?!).
Criticism is unavoidable. Disapproval is numerically inescapable. But bowing to the perceived pressure, well, that’s your choice. That decision is under your control.
What happens depending on the choice you make? For starters, whichever path you choose becomes amplified over time. The more you bow to the negative feedback of others, the more you train yourself to be the kind of person who bows to the negative feedback of others. It’s a form of self-governance that grows ever stricter and more repressive.
Conversely, the more you dismiss criticism in a good-humoured way, knowing that it’s inevitable and not taking it too seriously, the more you train yourself to be the kind of person who can act independently, get her own results, and lump the dislikes.
So, if you wrestle with the fear of others’ opinions, let’s begin with an aphorism that high-stakes players take to heart: ‘Tigers do not loose sleep over the opinion of sheep.’
You need the leeway to act. You will have to ruffle a few feathers if you are to become anything. Paralysis by over-care will not serve you. A couple of ‘dislikes’ on your upload are normal, natural and necessary.
So, imagine if you made mental accommodation for them. Imagine if you were to give yourself permission to fail from time to time. More revolutionary still, imagine if you gave others permission to disapprove of you. They are entitled to their thoughts, and you need the space and the freedom to act and to try. Both are permissible.
As you grow beyond employee and into the ranks of leadership – or better still, thought-leadership – you will need to increasingly permit yourself the freedom and leeway to be disliked.
Certainly, it’s wonderful when people give themselves over to you heart and soul. But it’s also almost mythically rare. Most industry legends are hated every bit as much as they are loved; they will have armies of followers, and mobs who would love nothing more than to burn them at the stake. Most don’t care. They boldly go about their work. They trust their inner voice. They believe in themselves. They allow themselves the space to be phenomenal, and occasionally, to be hated.
So go ahead. Collect a ‘dislike’ or two. You may be delighted to discover that it makes absolutely no difference. And you might just learn to love your newfound freedom to be.
Douglas Kruger is a professional speaker and author who encourages people to think. He speaks on Expert Positioning and the misunderstood link between work and wealth. He is a 5x winner of the SA Championships for Public Speaking and the author of three books.