During my career as hospice chaplain, I had the privilege of meeting a man that quickly became my mentor, a relationship that lasted over 15-years. Steve was kind to me from the get go. When I approached him one afternoon to ask if I could be a part of a professional group that he facilitated at his office weekly, his answer was a warm yes. Before his stroke that would forever force him into retirement, Steve was a psychiatrist and psychotherapist par excellence. He knew the power, creativity, and chaotic nature of the mind, the unconscious, in particular. One would expect such a being with great knowledge and insight to be hard to follow. Not Steve! Steve took in depth wisdom and packaged it into practical form. Here is one example.
We all struggle with certain personalities. Even the best of the best do not bat a thousand when it comes to people. That's because people are complex. We have a light side and a dark side. We have plenty of inconsistencies and another load of contradictions that we carry around. And let us not forget those internal conflicts that push and pull us to dissimilar conclusions all at the same time.
With all of this chaos going on in our little minds at any given moment, we have this unbelievable thirst that the world around us, which is made up of the same chaotic formula, have one happy feeling for us. And we will give up our dreams, money, and personal power just to find it, be it in a boss, supervisor, partner, family member, or friend. Here's where Steve's wisdom came in.
Steve was well aware of how the mind worked. And he knew that most of us battle over the same mental giants everyday, one of them being our unrealistic wish for consistent love from all. The seasoned professional magically made it simple one day when the subject about people arose. In his low, humble pitch he said, "You will always have three types of people in your life. Those who like you. Those who don't. And those who don't care one way or the other." Voila! Let that sink in for a minute. No matter who you are or become, what you own, or who you know, you will always have some who like you, some who don't, and some who don't give a dam one way or another (a big ouch for the narcissist in us). And if you try to fit everyone into the category of people liking you, then at the end you will still have three types of people in your life.
What does this mean for you and me? Stop trying so hard to get everyone to like you! What's wrong with someone not liking you, anyway? There's not a soul who has lived or become famous who hasn't had a run-in with a percentage of people that criticized--and not of the constructive kind. Everyone of us has a crowd that doesn't like our ideas, lifestyles, choices, or favorite music. Some just don't like us period!
At my age, I find myself becoming more and more comfortable with Steve's wisdom. Sure, there is a deep thread within us that would love a world where everyone gets along. It's not going to happen. Strangely, there is something freeing about accepting this phenomenon.
When Steve shared this rule of thumb, he did so with an ease about him that I'll never forget. It's one thing to say what Steve taught and feel it. Steve wore his message. You could tell he had carved intentional space to let go of the irrational demand for people to like him. But he took it one step further. He learned to give others permission not to like him, if that's what they chose.
Steve passed away, but not before leaving us with a model that can serve us well. And I thank him deeply. I write this article in honor of him, a man that loved me and told me to be ok with those who don't. You can see my interview with Steve on, "After a Stroke".