Is it bad to want to be likable?


I recently came across a quote about our desire to be likable, and it got me thinking. Writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie urged young girls to forget about being likable:

So what I want to say to young girls is forget about likability. If you start thinking about being likable you are not going to tell your story honestly, because you are going to be so concerned with not offending, and that’s going to ruin your story, so forget about likability.

Wanting to be likable, and not knowing how to stop wanting that, is something I’ve struggled with ever since I was young. How — exactly — does one stop wanting to be likable?

I think it’s an innate human desire, one that I haven’t been able to turn off. I’ve always envied those who seem to be able to just be, without concern with what others think. But I think I feel the pull of this desire for a few reasons:

  • I am human, and we are social creatures.
  • I grew up in the south, where manners and perception are a big deal.
  • I married an extremely nice guy. It absolutely makes me feel pressure to be nice, too.
  • I am averse to conflict.
  • I know that people are not always feeling on the inside what they are saying on the outside, and it causes doubt to creep in.
  • I have an older sister who is good at everything she does — and well liked! She sets a very high bar.

But now that I’m close to bringing a little one into this world, I’ve been thinking about what kind of role model I want to be, and what kinds of messages I want to pass down. I truly want to walk the walk on this message, and I hope that being a parent — having something larger and outward to focus on — will make my concerns fade into the background.

I heard a quote by Bill Cosby years ago that has stuck with me:

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

Of course, we now know that Bill Cosby has been very effective at not pleasing everybody (to put it mildly). But his quote really resonated. It’s just not possible to please everybody. People are so different, and there are so many people. It’s just not going to happen.

My takeaway from these two thinkers is this:

Trying to be likable will make you inauthentic, and it’s a futile pursuit anyway.

So today I read about some possible solutions, like paying attention to our everyday experiences, meditating, and changing our thought patterns.

I’m also working on standing my ground. At work, I (politely) told two senior colleagues that I disagreed with them, and in both cases we had good, productive conversations about how to address our conflicting concerns. With friends, I opted to forget about makeup at a birthday party last weekend because I just didn’t feel like dealing with it. Small victories, but I’ll take ’em.

I also think that being the person you want to be — pursuing your passions, having hobbies, volunteering, reading books, running marathons, or whatever it may be — makes you innately likable. It makes you interesting and unique. And happy.

It’s still a struggle, but it’s a struggle worth having.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you struggle with wanting to be likable? Or is it easy for you to just be you and not worry about how others perceive you?

(Photo credit: Heather, Flickr)


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