Would you rather be respected or be popular?
You want to be both popular and respected, but which is your priority? Which do you put first in the world?
Do you want people to think of you first as fun, cute, sweet and likeable, or do you want people to think of you first as capable, reliable, competent and powerful?
No one wants to be unpopular, of course, but every action in this finite world has consequences and decisions must be made. Priorities must be set.
“I don’t know the recipe for success,” one old saw goes, “but I do know the plan for failure: trying to satisfy everyone.” Making strong and competent choices is always going to mean some people will find a reason to disapprove, to criticize, to simply not like you.
Does that mean you should try to be more likeable or try to be more competent? Can you succeed by trying to get fewer people to dislike you, or can you only succeed by trying to get those who do respect what you are doing to value you more?
Chasing away dislike is like trying to chase away darkness. It will never work. Bringing light is the only choice to eliminate darkness, shining in a way that attracts people to you because they see and value what you are sharing.
Trying to be liked requires us to play small, diminishing any achievements, skills or power that may challenge other people, bringing up their own fears and prejudices. It demands that we work to be inoffensive, non-threatening and cute rather than being big and owning our own gifts. We end up surrendering our power to the group, saying what they want to hear and always fearing that we will go too far and lose them.
Wanting to first be liked leads us to self-sabotage, a kind of blocking and punching at the same time where we neither get respect nor do we get the approval of others. Being popular means always living for the next judgment from the next person we meet, working to be trendy enough to get their okay.
The big thing we sacrifice in the attempt to be liked rather than respected is our own precious self-respect. When our ego can point to every incident that someone turned their back on us as a failure, we are controlled by our fear rather than our love.
When we hold on to moments of respect, positive achievements that we have power over rather than the negative response of people who are playing out their own stuff, we can start to build our own self esteem, start to face down our ego. We have a power over our own accomplishments that we will never have over the self-involved opinions of others.
Having self-respect allows us to show our strength in the world, which in turn draws those who have their own strength to us. People who respect what we are doing are much more likely to be good partners to us than people who feel sorry for us, who just think we are sweet and pretty, those who find our fear of being unliked compelling.
Being liked is almost never a precursor to being respected, but being respected is often a precursor to being liked. As people see our value, get closer to us and begin to learn more about who we are.
Not having self-respect means we don’t engage our own power, instead believing we are at the mercy of people we don’t respect, people who don’t seem to care if we like them. A lack of self-respect leaves us in the attitude of a victim, always looking for other people who agree that the world is evil and against us, that it would be better if it was more likeable, an easier place for us to be liked.
When you don’t respect yourself, when you don’t work to create achievements that you respect, it is usually hard for people around you to respect you and what you offer. This can easily become a cycle; them not respecting you and you not respecting them.
The only way to break that cycle is for you to work to be respected, making hard choices that are worthy of respect. In many ways, this is the moment we become an adult, not looking for mommy, but looking to be seen, understood and valued for what we uniquely bring to the group.
By being valued we can be seen, others finding the tenderness and emotion behind our offerings. When someone asks for compassion it is easy to demand they show responsibility, but when someone shows responsibility, it is easy to offer them compassion.
Respect and pride are the same thing, a kind of empowerment that allows us to claim our own position and success in the world. Discarding respect because it doesn’t satisfy our self image is destroying our power.
I learned a long time ago that looking to be liked had limits, costly ones for me. Instead of being liked, I worked at being respected and have found, over the years, that people who finally get over themselves and engage what I offer also find me likeable. Even if they don’t get there, though, I still have my self respect to carry me forward, doing the work I find important in the world. I am a queer theologian, a dirty job for sure, but someone has to do it.
Would you rather be respected or be liked? Would you rather hold on to your self-respect or rather search for the attention of those around you, feeling hurt when it is denied, allowing your ego to tell you that you failed?
Popularity always fades, but competency rarely does. Instead, success builds on success, giving us the foundation to make bigger and bigger dreams come true.
Popularity has to be fought for every day, leading to a sense of scarcity and fear, but successes can be tucked away, there to go back to and own when you need to get through a hard time. Popularity is fleeting, but success endures.
I made the choice very early to value respect more than popularity. Respect was something I could take with me and build on. It was my choice.