Sad People

“Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
‘Pathetic,’ he said. ‘That’s what it is. Pathetic.’
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
‘As I thought,’ he said. ‘No better from THIS side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.’
There was a crackling noise in the bracken behind him, and out came Pooh.
‘Good morning, Eeyore,’ said Pooh.
‘Good morning, Pooh Bear,’ said Eeyore gloomily. ‘If it IS a good morning,’ he said. ‘Which I doubt,’ said he.
‘Why, what’s the matter?’
‘Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.’
‘Can’t all WHAT?’ said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
‘Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. …I’m not complaining, but There It Is.'”
~ A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I don’t know if I’m a “sad” person. I’m figuring that out. I think I have been sad a lot. But I don’t know if I’m a Sad Person.

I have had stretches in my life full of everyday giddiness, high on life, can’t-stop-smiling, can’t-stop-laughing. Like life was one constant summer evening drive with the windows down. In fact, “happy” used to be the word I’d always, always use to describe myself. It was my identity.

I definitely am not always a Happy Person, though. At least not these days.

Do you think you HAVE to be a Happy Person? SHOULDN’T be a Sad Person? Maybe you’re a both. (That sounds pretty human.) What is YOUR relationship with sadness?

There is something to be said, to be acknowledged and understood, about sadness and sad people. They’re there, they’re real. I don’t know why some are mostly sadder and some are mostly happier. And like I said, I don’t know which one I am or if I’m right in the middle. Maybe that will change every year. Maybe one day it will stay one or the other. But I think the world is a better place when we acknowledge and see and accept that some people are Sad People.

I stumbled upon this little moment in a Ray Bradbury story this year, and it spoke to me, a little too directly:

“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

I’d like to share a little bit of my story with sadness, because I want to tell you a few things I know about sad people.

My journey with sadness must have started very young. Maybe, like Ray Bradbury said, “no special reason.” I just remember hearing when I was growing up that I had always been a very anxious little kid. Always afraid, crying lots. Having deep, sad thoughts.

I remember as a 7-year-old having very real fears that my siblings and I must not be real Christians because we were always fighting and being mean. I tried to have a sort of one-kid intervention about it, where I made a big pronouncement of doom and despair with my 7-year-old voice, trying to be heard over all the kids-fighting-because-they’re-kids noise in the back of the station wagon, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

I sucked my thumb and slept with stuffed animals for a lot longer than was normal “for a boy” (which is a dangerous phrase). I always felt afraid and I always felt a desperate need for safety, for assurance, for comfort. I still have my tigers Jack and Dakota and Sebastian, and when I find them once in a while on my closet shelf I feel a “better” type feeling, like when I hugged them close as a kid. I hugged them a lot because I needed love and I needed safety. I had this nightmare when I was only several years old that spoke so strongly of my day-to-day fears that I can still replay the nightmare to this day: Out on a family walk in Chattanooga, I’d fall behind, my family would round a bend, and gypsies would jump out of the woods and steal me away to be their own child. (I don’t know where I learned about gypsies.)

We moved to Florida. A lot of times I couldn’t sleep. My mom found me sitting on the stairs. I explained, when she asked what was wrong, that I was just so worried about getting spinal meningitis or small pox and dying. I shared a room with a brother and two sisters, and we would stay awake planning how we could protect ourselves if a bad person broke into the house while dad and mom were away. I knew where my granddad’s Japanese WWII sword was. Swords were my thing. At first I would draw swords and then eventually I’d make swords out of old broom handles and duct tape and then one day a deacon at church said he had a jigsaw and would love to help me carve the swords so I dreamed them up and drew the outlines on old bed slats and I brought them to him and it was a good day but he also was a little rough around the edges and said some unkind words to me and it scared me and it made me sad but when I got home I had my swords. My favorite sword was a beautiful little one. Duct tape wrapped around two pencils gave the handle a handle-shape and I think I painted a red jewel on the bottom. One time I was “fooling around” with it while the family read out loud for school, so my mom told me to bring it to her, and I asked her to please, please, please not spank me with it, because I was afraid it would break, and it was my favorite sword, but she spanked me with it, and my sword broke. And I was a kind of sad-in-every-way that lasted a long, long time.

As a teenager I got sad about deeper things. Things like my imperfections. I thought it was good to beat myself up over my mistakes and my weaknesses, so I did, a lot. I felt lots of shame and stress and struggle. I worried so much about God. That wasn’t a new thing. When I was about 9 I had asked my dad how we could have gotten to the present if eternity stretched for all eternity into the past. We couldn’t have gotten to now, so it all must have started sometime, but how could God be God if he hadn’t stretched to eternity past? And who got God started? This was a deep, aching, upset-stomach kind of problem to me. But my dad explained that God is outside time, so I felt better and went back to worrying about getting kidnapped instead. In my teen years, the God fears got more complicated. How could I know that I had the right kind of faith? Not the “Lord, didn’t I know you?” only to hear God say “Depart from me, I never knew you!” kind of faith. I would lie awake night after night crying in bed, afraid of going to hell, imagining it, hoping against it, wondering, sick to my stomach. That fear never went all the way away. (“Perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18)

If I had been my own parent and had believed in things like therapists and psychology, there was one year in particular that I would have brought kid-me to a professional. I had this awful thought where maybe God wasn’t real–and it all went downhill fast from there. For months and months and months, I could hardly eat, I could hardly sleep, I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t look people in the face, especially not the eyes. I truly could not smile and people commented on it. I couldn’t enjoy anything. I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see straight, sometimes. I felt like I was walking in a tunnel. I felt like I was floating away on the outside, looking in at all the peopleish people who knew how to be people, while I was dying in my heart, desperately waiting for the world to make sense again, waiting for a thing to hold onto. I was lost and scared. All of the happy and fun things were not happy and not fun anymore. At all. Every day was awful. Every single day. For the better part of a year. It was so dark. I would shut myself in my bedroom and cry for most of every day. Think, worry, and cry. That was my life for quite a while. I was a Sad Person in a big needs-help kind of way.

In my late teen years, my sadness turned mostly toward love-stuff. Cute-girl love but also family love and friendship love and world peace love and all the feel-good stuff that we celebrate on a day like Christmas, the day I find myself writing this. I felt deeply lonely and sad about not having a lot of friends, about never really learning to have friends or to be around other people who were different from me. I felt stuck in a place where I couldn’t feel much love, and every day it felt heavy and lonely and yucky and sad. As an 18-year-old I would covertly bypass our burglar alarm so that I could sneak out of my window to take walks alone in the dark. It felt like a little bit of freedom, getting to just be me. There were really rough times where I felt like I had lost so much love and support and friendship. Where I felt like I had been rejected by almost everyone, left completely alone, broken, to navigate life by myself. I needed love, but I couldn’t trust.

Eventually I claimed the freedom to go do my life the way I wanted. Unfortunately, that freedom coincided with an unrequited-love time, and juggling that and an 18-year-long scar of sadness got really, really dark.

But then, fairly randomly I think, I learned how to be happy.

I found real, huge, giddy, outrageously GOOD happiness! And honestly, I had experienced lots of happy things or happy corners-of-life in my childhood. Playing baseball in my backyard, feeling like a world traveler as I caught a plane and the MARTA to escape to my loving friends in Atlanta, and playing all the happy songs on the piano, like Linus and Lucy. But lots, I’d play the sad songs, too. Finally, as a young adult, the sad songs started slipping into memory and every day started bursting with happiness. A beautiful girl named Lyssi. Cheese and other yummy foods not as worthy of mention as cheese. Epic movies to see. Sketch pads. A fresh, cool breeze rushing by as I ran for miles and miles. My own car to adventure in. People who were there for me and the chance to be there for people. Kind words. Hugs. Purpose, excitement, confidence, and giddy, giddy, giddy happiness.

And then more weird life things happened that shook me pretty deep and brought me back to the pretty constant hum of worry and stress and fear and doubt and sadness. Several years swung back and forth pretty regularly–actually probably pretty healthily–between being generally stressed and generally happy. I wasn’t a Sad Person, but I wasn’t the Happy Person I had been, either.

Then one summer, over a year ago now, two things happened that shook a lot of Sad loose from deep inside my heart. First, I took a trip and saw some people whom it should have been wonderful to see, and saw a bunch more people who were once my tribe. And it was not good. It was not good at all. It was hard and sad and heavy and frustrating and a little bit gross. After that trip I came back to the happy-home I had found the freedom to make, but I couldn’t shake the hurt. For months after that trip I would wake up almost every night sweating, shaking, panting, having nightmares about the sad stuff I thought I had left safely behind in my childhood. Trust started becoming hard again. I started feeling sensitive and oh-so-protective. Second that summer (and I’ve written lots about this before) I bonked my head way too hard hiking in the Colorado Rockies and I knocked even more feelings loose. If you’ve ever had a concussion or known someone who has, you might know a frequent effect is intense anxiety and emotional lows. Like “I’m crying and I don’t know why” twenty times a day. This time around for me, the emotional lows were there again, but the anxiety was so present and so forceful, I could hardly make it through the day. I became weirdly mistrusting of everything and everyone, and I constantly felt that at the next moment my whole world might come crashing down. The concussion effect on my brain lasted a surprisingly long time, especially the anxiety. But by the time I felt probably-back-to-normal, so much Sad had been shaken loose that I felt like a significantly different person than I’d been before the ordeal.

Since then, I’ve dealt with a weird and tough stretch. Over a year feeling the loss of a lot of things I had, feeling the loss of a lot of things I thought I had, figuring out stuff that many people get to figure out as a kid, like how to be angry or how to be mad or how to love someone and yourself at the same time. Thank god for therapy. When my wife asked me a few days ago who had made the biggest impact on me this year, without a second thought I knew it was the therapist I’ve been seeing. I think it’s all going to be okay. Turns out, people get anxious. Some people get anxious a lot, like to the point where you could say they “have” it. And it turns out I’m some people.

And as someone who understands the anxiety and the sadness stuff a little better now than I used to, I’ve gotten to look back and read a bunch of journals and letters from when I was a teenager and a young adult. And oh my goodness, they are DARK. Just heart-breaking. I was a deeply, deeply sad and anxious person.

And then I was a super happy-go-lucky person.

And now I’ve had a pretty sad year or two.

But I’m still so happy a lot. It’s just I’m also so sad a lot. These days, probably more sad. That’s okay right now.

And honestly, knowing all this history, I still don’t really “get” exactly how my sadness works. It’s still confusing. It’s still weird. It still acts in unexpected ways. It’s still “emotional” and acts like it. And then when I think I’ve made sense of it and suddenly it doesn’t make sense again, I keep coming back to Ray Bradbury’s words: “No special reason. . . .”

As someone who’s been a Happy Person and a Sad Person, I want to share a few things, things that I hope will make you feel some mix of not-alone-in-your-sadness and inspired-to-be-a-good-friend-to-sad-people.

First, I understand why my therapist teased that I’d be thankful for my concussion that shook loose the sadness and anxiety deep in my heart. Life is actually better when I see and accept and work with those feelings.

Second, again my therapist, he told me he doesn’t wish people lives of abundant happiness, just abundance. Abundant everything. Some days that means deep happiness. Some days it means deep love. Some days it means deep excitement. And some days–some days it means deep sadness.

Third, go see a therapist. From the bits and pieces of psychology I’ve learned, I know Ray Bradbury’s not wrong: Some people are just sad without a clear cause that therapy can fix. And it’s good for your mix of emotions to include sadness. But, there is a lot of deep, constant, unnecessary sadness that a therapist might be able to help you with. You never know till you try. For me, it’s been life saving.

Fourth, you probably should not always be happy. (Not like “please stop being happy,” but just a warning from my personal experience that, I think, if you think you’re always happy, you might need to check on yourself a bit more, a bit deeper.) You should be happy and sad and mad and scared sometimes. There are good reasons to feel all of those and all of those are normal feelings. It is a lot of pressure to tell yourself (or to tell others, or to let others tell you) that you should always be happy.

Fifth, sad people aren’t bad people who are causing problems by being sad. Many sad people learn to take care of their feelings without taking them out on other people. Mr. Rogers–Fred Rogers–said in an interview that he learned to express his angry and sad feelings through his fingers on the piano.

Sixth, and closely related, if you’re the sad one, you really can learn how to be sad in a healthy way. I’ve learned that it is okay to be sad. Sometimes the things that made you sad aren’t okay, like when you’ve been abused or bullied. And some outlets you might find for your sad feelings aren’t okay, like abusing or bullying others. But you can have healthy sadness.

Seventh, please don’t judge sad people as somehow worse, defective, rain-clouds, melodramatic, silly, not-good-enough, their-own-fault, all the blamey and rejecty labels. Each person has a story you don’t know. People have such long, complex stories! If we’re being honest, we probably don’t really know our own stories all the way. When you see someone–someone who looks sad, who looks like their life is a hard one–please find some compassion. And if you’re a sad person, same goes–please don’t judge yourself for it.

Eighth, please don’t decide for people who they are. Don’t label them as officially happy or officially sad in your book. People are people and life gets weird. When you decide for someone that they’re a Sad Person, you only make it harder. Harder for them to freely express the happy moments, harder for them to ask for support, harder for them to feel appreciated and loved, and honestly harder for them to move towards more happiness. Just as importantly, please don’t decide for someone that they’re a Happy Person. When someone knows that they are, to you, dependably happy, positive, always encouraging and inspiring and energetic and enthusiastic, it becomes an unrealistic burden. Such a burden that when sad times do come, they can’t talk about it. They can’t share. Because too many people are counting on them to not be sad. So please just don’t treat people like they’re a “Sad Person” or a “Happy Person.” Don’t set those expectations. Don’t put that pressure. Don’t plant that guilt. Just let people be people and meet them where they are, every day. One of my most deeply held beliefs is that people can’t be summed up in a nutshell, pre-determined, dependably defined by a set of 4 letters, because humans can change, suddenly and drastically, and they can grow, and they will surprise you. “Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Ninth, let people be sad. Let yourself be sad. Sad is okay.

And tenth, love sad people. Instead of trying to fix them (god knows if they can’t, you can’t), love them. Instead of pressuring or guilting them or trying to change their minds, love them. Instead of tiptoeing around them on eggshells, get in the messy feelings world with them and LOVE THEM. If anything, anything, anything will ever help a Sad Person find a little more happy, it will be love. But honestly? Don’t let changing or helping them be your goal. Just love them for them, period. And if you’re sad? Love others and get love. Ask for it. Talk about it. Accept it. Trust it. Feel it. And love yourself. You are sad, but you are beautiful.

P.S. Please remember that there are more Sad People than you think. Many people–maybe most people–have learned not to talk about their sadness. Not to cry. Not to share. Some not even to think about their sadness, when they can help it. Many have learned to smile, to be excited, to have fun, to be energetic, and still, just under the surface, there is an ache. Sometimes the biggest smiles hide the deepest aches. So remember that there are many more than you think there are. And remember that they’ve learned, a lot of them, that they’re not allowed to tell you they’re sad.

P.P.S. Also, let’s all do our part in making honesty and vulnerability okay, even when that means tears. You with me? We’re all in this together.

P.P.P.S. I love putting an inspiring quote on a picture and placing it in my blog posts. And I was thinking, what could be a good, inspiring, positive message about sad people? And then I thought, why should it be positive and inspiring? Sad people are sad people. They’re there. They exist. They’re right next to us. They are us. And sometimes that, itself, just needs to be acknowledged and understood and accepted and made peace with. It should be okay.

Ray Bradbury - some people get sad young

‘You Don’t Have to Like Me’ – 5 Reasons to Be Your Real Self This Year

Happy 2018 my friends! Let me tell you a story about 2017. And 2016. And late 2015. Yeah–pretty much those three years. For the past few years I have struggled deeply with the fear of being disliked.

I judged the success of my interactions on whether the person I was speaking to came away happy with me. I tried really hard to only talk about things that would please people. I kept criticism, warnings, and complaints largely to myself. What about you? Do you keep a lot of your dearest thoughts and concerns to yourself so that people won’t reject you for being you?

I needed to be liked so badly–especially by authority figures or other people who could have serious impact on my life–that the littlest bit of tension, suspicion, or disapproval could set off panicky fight-or-flight type hormones (mostly flight) inside me. Does confrontation or disagreement bring you these feelings?

This fear robbed me of a lot of power and progress in situations where I could have better stood up for myself or others. It’s caused me to make decisions I’ve regretted.

 

Something worth noting is that I haven’t always lived life according to this fear. I remember a few years ago, one of my role models gave me the compliment of a lifetime: “Unflappable,” she called me. I was strong, calm, and dependable. I wasn’t pushed around by people and I didn’t panic and concede when someone had a problem with me. I had been around that block before–dealt with a lot of people judging me–and I had learned to find my own strength and confidence.

I honestly am not sure where I lost it. But now I am sure, comparing these last few years to my earlier, stronger years–I am sure that I was much happier, much more successful, and even more liked when I didn’t worry about whether people liked me.

(BIG disclaimer before I go any further: Being a nice person is good. This blog post is not proposing you be a brat. Don’t be a brat.)

 

In 2018, one of my personal development goals is to stop needing–or even wanting–everyone to like me. The words I chose are: Confident; Unintimidated; Emotionally/mentally tough.

I cannot need others to always approve of me, be my friend, agree with me, or be happy about what I do or say. And here are a few reasons why:

 

1. Being liked by everyone is impossible.

Let’s start with the simplest reason not to live for everyone’s approval: IT DOESN’T WORK.

A while back I was chatting with a friend about former President Barack Obama’s leadership style. I mentioned that I was impressed that he worked so hard at being kind and respectful to both sides, not just viciously attacking the other side of each agenda or blindly towing his own party’s line. It seemed to me like it was important to him that he be able to get along and build relationships with the political opposition. My friend, a strong democrat, replied that the president’s agreeableness was his biggest problem, that he should have taken a much more vocal and forceful stand on everything.

Moral of the story: Try to be agreeable to everyone and there will always be people who disapprove of you for not being more disagreeable to people they don’t like.

A close friend had a similar experience. He had decided to passionately live his life according to one central standard: Peace with everyone. He was determined to be at peace with every single person in his life–to be friendly and to get along. And to his credit, his passion for this has made him one of the kindest and most compassionate people you’ll meet. But there was a problem. One family member, his mom, desperately wanted and needed him to oppose other family members, including her ex-husband, his dad. When they were together, she insisted they talk negatively about other family behind their backs. Whenever he saw his dad, his mom was hurt and angry and questioned his love. It soon became clear that no matter how hard he tried to be in a peaceful relationship with both sides, his mom would accept absolutely no version of friendship that made room for his priority of peace with anyone but her. He tried and tried to explain that all he wanted was to get along with everyone. But to his mom, his desire for peace with others meant a personal attack on her.

There are a million examples, and I’ll bet there are some in your own life that come to mind. At work, keeping your employees happy might mean letting down your own boss. You may feel pressure to blur some lines and cut some corners here or there for the sake of productivity, because one executive expects and encourages it. But keeping him happy means causing another leader to view you as unethical or undependable. Or just try making decisions about the holiday without offending one or another family member.

Maybe the biggest proof of all that you can’t please everybody: Try assembling a guest list for your wedding. Leave your crazy uncle off the list and risk the wrath of your grandparents. Put him on the list and the rest of your family might not show up. (Eloping is underrated.) You just can’t keep everybody happy, and sometimes trying will just make people even more unhappy with you.

 

2. Needing everyone’s approval leaves you feeling guilty, stressed, and hurt.

If I am trying desperately to keep everyone happy with me–if I make that my responsibility and blame myself when someone is disappointed in me or turns against me–If I need your approval in order to be happy, then I have given you control over my life and my heart.

It’s the age old story–you were never good enough for your dad as a kid, and now that you’re an adult, you just want him to be pleased with you. You want him to accept you for who you are. If he has a problem with you, you feel small and sad. But maybe what your dad thinks of you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him.

Living for a parent’s approval or your boss’s approval or your significant other’s approval or your kid’s approval–tying your happiness and self-image to whether someone likes you will just lead to hurt. Again and again and again. Because while you may choose to want them to like you, they may choose for themselves that they don’t.

I’ll bet you have a relationship where you find this tendency in yourself. (I know I do!) You fight in your head over every little decision, because what would please you will displease your boss. Maybe last time you chose to stand up for yourself, and your boss let you know in no uncertain terms that you displeased them. You ended up sad and guilty–yet another person you’ve let down. So this time, you’re choosing to concede. Let your boss have his way. Live to please. So you end up making choices you don’t feel right about, and you end up stressed and still feeling guilty.

If I live to please, I always feel guilty: Guilty for the compromises I’ve made to please others, or guilty for not pleasing others because I refused to compromise.

If I live to please, I always feel hurt: Hurt by your choice to pick a fight with me even though I tried to keep the peace, or hurt by someone else’s disappointment that I have a relationship with you to begin with.

And if I live to please, I always feel stressed: Am I getting it right? For you? For him? For her? For them? And if I am getting it right for everyone else–am I honestly getting it right for myself?

 

3. Needing to be liked stunts professional progress.

I hate corporate politics. I dream of finding a place without politics. But politics don’t seem to care. They’re sticking around no matter how I feel.

An incredible number of people–influential people–will encourage, expect, and even require you to do things you don’t feel right about, or not to do things you really want to do. And needing to be liked–needing approval–will make you a permanent servant of stronger, bolder political players.

I’ve noticed that the people who end up making progress quickly or getting their way (at least for a good while) in organizations are the ones who don’t need to be liked by everybody. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I have a deep passion, for example, for promoting inclusivity and equal opportunity in my company–there will be some people who don’t like that, who spread negativity about me, and who want to see me go. I can need their approval and stop working so hard for this good thing. Or I can let them have their own problem with me, and keep focusing on the good I am doing. At the end of the day, if I need everyone to be on board my ship, my ship will never set sail.

I’ve also noticed that the people who do need to be liked by everybody are usually stuck serving those daring leaders and innovators who don’t need to always be liked. There will always be someone who will only accept and like you as long as you are serving their vision and purpose. So you make the trade off: They get you as a pawn in their game, and you get liked.

The rule applies to every area of work within an organization: If I need you to like me, and you don’t need me to like you, then I will do what you want me to do. Every time. But what if I also didn’t need you to like me?

If I didn’t need everyone’s approval, I’d think outside the box more–take bigger risks–accept bigger responsibilities–identify more problems with the status quo–chase opportunities without apologizing to less ambitious co-workers.

Some time ago, someone a few rungs above me on the corporate ladder brought me something to do. It didn’t sit right with me–in fact, I knew it wasn’t right. I started to protest, and immediately her face flushed and she got pushy. “Trust me, it’s fine! Just do it!” In the little decision-making moment that I had, my mind went straight to the conversations she was going to have later with her co-workers and higher-ups, people who could influence my career: “He’s such a stickler.” “He thinks he’s better than everybody.” “He just doesn’t get it.” I just wanted to be liked. I didn’t want anybody having problems with me. But if I did it, I would have a problem with myself. And so would all the influential people on the other side of the corner-cutting spectrum if they found out. Talk about stress!

But what if I didn’t need her to like me? What if instead of trying to please everyone, I consciously chose the kind of person I wanted to be, and allowed some influential people to help me and some not to. What if I recognized that pleasing everyone was just never going to happen, and I focused my energy instead on being bold and strong and confident? After all–those confident, independent types were the ones I kept seeing up near the top of the ladder.

No matter what your career goals and projects, the more energy you expend on the impossible mission of pleasing everybody, the less you’ll have to build on your own vision. And there will always be people who just aren’t pleased with your vision.

 

4. Needing to be liked by everyone keeps you from helping people.

This one is near and dear to my heart.

I grew up in a world where everything was either “right” or “wrong”–“very good” or “very bad.” Everything had to be judged. Everything was a moral issue, and I had to know all the answers. I now think that world doesn’t work. It leads to arrogance and viciousness, shame and depression. Over-zealous over-confidence has led to hundreds of wars and conflicts throughout history.

But now I’ve found that–in reaction to that world–just as big a world exists where there is no “right” or “wrong.” Everything is okay. Peace is the only value. Nobody can speak up against things as “bad.” Everyone worships the vision of being completely 100% chill.

But in the real world–in the real world where, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18–in the real world where over 500 lives were ended in 2017 by mass shootings in America–in the real world, there is such a thing as “bad.”

I want to help people who are being hurt. And sometimes it’s not as black and white as a gun in your face. In fact, more often than not it’s quiet manipulation and bullying. Parents emotionally abuse children, high schoolers bully less cool high schoolers, co-workers bully the new guy or the nerdy girl. Bosses take advantage of their employees. Celebrities use their status to get away with sexual harassment. And it’s really easy to just go with the flow–let it happen–laugh it off–shrug your shoulders–“not my problem.” After all, standing up and saying “No” takes guts. And breaking the silence usually puts a big target on your back.

As long as I need everyone to accept and approve of me and what I do, I can’t take a stand against the “bad.” If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t stand up to bullies and abusers and help vulnerable people find strength and freedom. Too many people would rather I just leave things be so they can stay comfortable in the status quo.

If I need to be liked by everyone, I can’t ruffle feathers, can’t be honest about the elephant in the room, can’t say no to hurtful behaviors. I can’t help people who are being hurt and also remain popular with the people doing (or enabling or ignoring) the hurting.

Do you want to be the kid that “stayed out of it?” Or the kid that stepped in between his friend and the school bully and said, “You’ll have to get through me first!”?

 

5. Lastly, living for approval from others keeps you from being you.

Do you ever hear yourself say something and think, “Wait–where did that come from?!?”

If I spend so much time worrying about what others will think, I just won’t be myself.

If I worry at every meeting about how every single person will feel about my opinions or votes or suggestions, I won’t speak up (and certainly won’t recommend creative new solutions or thinking outside the box).

If I need every client to be completely happy with me, I won’t be able to say “no” when I need to say no in the interests of my own career and the health of my organization.

If I can’t say no to one family member’s gossip because I want them to like me, I won’t be the loving, caring person the rest of my family needs.

If I choose not to be honest about who I am when I’m making new friends because I’m afraid I’m too weird or different, then nobody will ever know and love the real me.

If I carefully write every single blog post so that absolutely everyone will be pleased with what I have to say and think I’m a smart guy, I won’t communicate genuinely from the heart.

Dependence on the approval of others–always needing to be liked–paralyzes you. It keeps the real you hidden deep down, while an ever-stressed and watered-down version of you walks the tight rope of each new job and relationship.

Don’t be afraid to be you. You don’t need everyone to like who you really are. Diet You isn’t going to be very useful to the world. Be the bold, free, loving you that you are pleased with–and I promise you, you’ll find that the kind of people who end up liking you are pretty amazing people to have in your life.

Be the kind of person you would like, and leave others to struggle with their own opinions of you.

 

One last thought–a friend of mine, who has spent his career as a therapist helping people be honest with each other and get along, says something that will always stick with me: “People connect at the level of their struggles.”

In this Facebook/Instagram/Always-Look-Happy kind of world, it’s tempting to think that if you open up about who you really are–dirty laundry and everything–people won’t like you. So we bottle our emotions, hide our hurts, and turn a blind eye to the suffering in our own homes. Because we’re afraid that if we get real, people won’t like us.

It’s not true. Be real. Talk about the things you feel like you’re not allowed to talk about. Show the fear and the love deep inside you. You’ll find a hundred friends who are aching to share just as deeply as you are. Yes, you’ll also find a few who are sad that you’re being you. But at least you’re actually being you.