The tyranny of needing to be liked

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I had a massive insight yesterday, spurred by a conversation with my best friend Desiree,  that may have just provided the key to a more satisfying, far-reaching and valuable work life.

I discovered that it is OK if not everyone likes what I say, do or believe.

And even more than that,

If I continue to believe that it is essential that everyone likes what I do, I will not live up to my true potential.

Mind you, I am no shrinking flower. I pound people on a regular basis in my Mixed Martial Arts class (all in the name of training, of course). I love big challenges and taking the stage. I am not afraid of digging into the fear, uncertainty or doubt that my clients face. In fact, I thrive in those conversations.

I am not afraid of big executives. Or tough kids. Or PTA Moms.

But still somewhere locked in the back of my mind is the worry that as I step forward into new areas of work that everyone who has been in my community must agree with my decisions and my direction.

When I posted about it on Facebook, an enormous discussion ensued about why women are so much more inclined than men to worry about making sure everyone around them is taken care of and happy.

Someone who is a female start up founder in Silicon Valley said:

“In Silicon Valley, men don’t let criticism or rejection get in their way, stop them, or effect their self-esteem. In fact, some of them thrive on having haters because it’s fuel for when they do succeed just so they can say, “I was right despite you all!”

Such massive gender generalizations of course have massive exceptions.

But it is hard to deny that women are socialized far more than men to be accepted and liked.

Another Facebook commenter shared things she had learned in a class about the psychology of prejudice:

“Women are expected to work for the good of the group, to be cooperative, supportive, and non-confrontational. Basically, ‘likeable’. When we fail to live up to this, we get subtle (and often not-so-subtle) cues from society that we are not living up to expectations; we are acting in a way that is not ‘womanly’, and thus we learn to strive to be ‘likeable’.

Men, on the other hand, are expected to be competitive, aggressive, assertive. Nobody expects a man to be ‘likeable’, to sacrifice himself for the good of someone else, or play down his own strengths so that someone else can feel better about themselves. Thus, they learn to not give a *&#$ if someone doesn’t like them… particularly when they’re working hard to get ahead and succeed (both of which are considered ‘manly’ traits).

These are the quiet lessons we learn growing up. So even when we ‘know better’, it can cause stress and anxiety to go against those deeply ingrained lessons from our earlier days.”

For men reading this, hopefully this will help you make sense of the internal struggle your sisters, daughters, Mom, wife or Aunts may face.

I see exceptions to this every day from my female mentors, like Nancy Duarte and Martha Beck.

I think they have made great strides in this area because they have done their work.

Does this mean you should seek to be disliked?

That wouldn’t really work with my personality. My friend Stacy Goldring gave a great alternative:

“You can have a preference for being liked without an attachment to the outcome!”

The underlying assumption of “people need to like me” is I can control what people think or feel which of course is not only impossible, it is insulting.

Do your thing. Own your choices. Don’t get up in someone’s business if they disagree with you, or even openly dislike you.

Bold work involves bold decisions and bold opinions. Creating is messy and complicated and opaque.

I am excited by this seemingly small yet massively critical insight. I will be working on it actively this whole next year.

What are your thoughts about the tyranny of needing to be liked? Please, disagree with me! 🙂

(And if you need a quick shot of acceptance, you can always count on your parents. Unless they are unkind. In which case, borrow Jerry Seinfeld’s parents. Tip @andypels)

In other news, this blog turns 7 years old today. Back in 2005, I had no idea what I was doing, and every post was an adventure. I am happy to say that nothing has changed. I still get giddy when I open up a fresh post, and feel the rush of discovering what I think through the process of writing.

Thanks to all of you who have been part of this journey. The greatest gift for a writer is being read.

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28 Responses to “The tyranny of needing to be liked”

  1. […] “You can have a preference for being liked without an attachment to the outcome!” […]

  2. Nola says:

    Being free of the need to ‘care what people think’ doesn’t free you from those that want to punish you for not conforming. Getting past the haters need to sabotage you is truly what makes it such a difficult proposition.

    Men have a set of unspoken rules for this. We dont’ – we are too busy pretending there are no rules for ruthless behavior. There are – lets teach them to our daughters.

  3. Emmy says:

    Dear pam,
    Your post came under my attention just when I need its insights most, thank you (and thank you susannah conway for sharing the link) greetings Emmy

  4. debmalya says:

    I have a slight difference of opinion. Whether you are an entrepreneur, CEO or someone who is starting a career, having a power base is really important and for that you need to ingratiate with the right people.always Being yourself doesn’t counts. In fact if you are not liked by right people then you are digging your own grave

  5. I would love to let go of the need to be liked! It’s reassuring that it strikes almost all of us. Let’s breakthrough!

  6. Carme says:

    Congratulations on that 7 years!!!
    And waiting for many many more to come 🙂

  7. NEENZ says:


    I read this while on the road in Wisconsin and now that I’m back in front of my laptop I returned to read it once more. Your words are inspiring and your feelings are common and shared amongst people around the globe.

    I’ve found strength in the unconditional love of my parents, my personal spiritual foundation, and later in life through my partnership and children. I remind myself I am loved exactly the way I am and that’s more than so many others. Know that you too are loved unconditionally.

    I am someone that is committed to serving my community, however not at the expense of my own health and happiness or that of those who give love to me — even when I’m least deserving. I don’t invest any time or thought into those that decide to build cases against me. Instead, I evaluate myself and find areas needing of growth and attention. I pray for their happiness and prosperity. And, when it’s really tough to find immediate resolve, there’s always Coor’s Light! 🙂

  8. Your Boss says:

    First and foremost, congrats on seven years. It seems like a lot but I bet those years just flew by. 🙂
    You know, I personally never cared if I am liked or not. We cannot please everyone. Not everyone will like it. Why then even bother to worry about it, right? We call it life, don’t we? 🙂

  9. Rick Wolff says:

    I only mean this as a funny observation: you refuse to overplay being liked, then thank us all for liking your blog these seven years.

  10. Congrats and thank you, Pam – once again! – for your authenticity and transparency (which are exactly why I’ve been liking you for seven years!)

    This is much-needed guidance in a world where the opportunities to not be liked have increased exponentially, thanks to blogging and social media. One of the best cautionary tales of trying to please everyone is Aesop’s fable of the man, the boy and the donkey.

  11. Holding on to that need to be liked, and have people agree with you poses a danger also in that it holds you back from shifting and pivoting when something clearly isn’t working for you. Especially if you already have a following in place whom you know is comfortable with what you already offer. It can be intimidating – I’ve experienced this, and continue to at times. It’s enlightening and encouraging to hear Pam and others’ take on it. “Normalizing” our tendency to do this, and break out of the habit will help us all. Cheers!

  12. Brian Cotlove says:

    Congrats on 7 years! Wish I had discovered this site when you started it. 🙂

  13. How does it go? If you are trying to serve everyone, you will eventually end up serving no one….

  14. faisal says:

    The very fact is, that you just can’t please everyone.

  15. Tina says:

    Thanks for the blog and to everyone for comments. Yeah, it is mot my business if someone dislikes me. I am a musician and do some education programs. I find schools are increasingly difficult to work with. And finding others who try to manipulate by ‘not liking’ a policy. I’m sorry, but that is the policy….
    getting easier to say as time goes by!
    thanks again.

  16. Eva Papp says:

    Someone once said “If everyone likes you, you’re doing something wrong.” Word!

  17. Tyler says:

    And if you’re aggressive, often disliked, but often sacrifice for the good of the group and are concerned with community and not just yourself?

    I need to find a support group for those people.

  18. Congratulations on your first 7 years of blogging. I always enjoy reading your posts – honest and focused on genuinely serving others.

    As for the “tyranny of needing to be liked” – I would say that this kind of need or drive is tied to being empathetic, and to having a desire for harmony. In general, those traits seem to be stronger in women.

    Most (certainly not all) men are less concerned than women with the inner life of others (less empathetic) and more aggressive toward others (more dominance vs. harmony-oriented), especially those whom they view as competitors versus their team mates. Why? Some of it might be rooted in in testosterone levels: Some of it may be socialization, etc. But the bottom line is, I think, that we are all rationalizing, not rational creatures. We can all either create better rationalizations (defense mechanisms), avoid situations that emotionally trigger us, or just accept more emotional suffering. I think that, at base, those are our choices.

  19. Scott says:

    That is funny, because I was thinking about this last night… My girlfriend got into it with someone on Facebook, relating to something pretty pointless. I was upset because the friend is mutual, but I was more concerned with how the rest of the circle of friends would perceive this little dust up. Truth be told, not everyone will agree or like what was said, and I cannot worry about her (or myself, or anyone for that matter) pleasing the entire group, all the time.

    Then I read this post, and it all comes clear. You really just need to focus on being truthful to yourself and your opinion, and while open minded, not be afraid to be disliked.



  20. Congratulations on 7 years, Pam!!

    I was amazed to read this from you because you always appear so bold 🙂

    I have been realizing recently how much damage this “need to be liked” does not only to myself, but to those I serve. They need me to give honest and complete assessments whether they like what I say or not.

    Strangely, when I was in a corporate environment or even working as an employee this wasn’t an issue for me. But as a business owner working with clients on their very personal missions, it has been a major one. I am now working on consciously staying aware of it and countering it so I can do really great work without holding back or getting tangled up.

    I love your quote of Stacy Goldring: “You can have a preference for being liked without being attached to the outcome.

  21. Lisa-Marie says:

    Congrats on the blog birthday!! As Seth says, “if you are telling a story foe everyone, you are telling a story for no one.” The fact that some people don’t like the story means you are doing it right :-). Thanks for the reminder Pam!

  22. Marilyn says:

    Happy blog birthday! And I learned to be brave in dealing with larges groups of people from you, my friend. Rejection is rocket fuel!

  23. Congrats on seven years! I LOVE the way you express yourself with the written word! So powerful and eloquent.

    Great insight! I think Steven Pressfield would agree that turning pro is about not being affected from praise or criticism, and more about staying to true to who you are.

    May you continue to shine your light on us all Pam!

  24. First, congratulations on 7 amazing years Pam! I’ve been reading the whole time – and you are just as feisty as you were when you first started. Rock on!

    Second, it is an every person thing. I don’t think anyone is immune. I used to struggle with this too. As a very outspoken person who likes to set the trends not follow them, I struggled for years trying to fit in. It wasn’t until I found people who loved me for who I really am did I learn to love me for me – and not give a crap what everyone else thinks. It can be a lonely road being worried about being liked, but it’s an even lonely road trying to fit in and knowing in your heart you don’t. While I still have my days, I know I special in my own way – and so is everyone else. Whether you like me or don’t is nobody’s business but yours.

    Here’s to 7 more years!!!

  25. I keep thinking about this “likable” thing as the final frontier that I have to get over to be able to break through my own personal ceiling. On one hand, it’s a great asset to have the good opinion of other people. On the other hand, it produces anxiety and inner conflict. How annoying.

    But you know what? I find so much comfort in how Martha Beck describes the “Everyones” that we construct for ourselves. “Everyone” is going to think this. “Everyone” is going to feel this. When in fact, our “Everyones” are completely fictional, made up of 3 to 5 people who have hurt us the most. If we can create a new “Everyone” made up of people who like us, it’s still fictional (we simply can’t be objective about how “Everyone” feels because there is no such thing), but it’s much more helpful.