On Being Likeable
I have spent a chunk of my life attempting to be likeable. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but in general, I try to be helpful and kind and all those other positive adjectives that we apply to “nice” people. Being liked seems like a good thing to be. Or, at the very least, the inverse seems like a bad thing to be: not liked.
No one wants to be the cauliflower*.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a speech a few weeks ago that resonated with me. She states:
I think that what our society teaches young girls … is that idea that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world, that you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable, that you’re supposed to hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy, because you have to be likable.
You can actually see the whole thing here. She addresses the girl writers around the 3:30 mark.
It’s a powerful statement: “Forget about likeability.”
What would you do if you stopped worrying about how it would be received? I don’t mean that people should act like a dick, but I think about all the times I’ve held my tongue because I’ve been scared that someone would laugh at my ideas or that it was out of place for me to suggest one of my ideas. (Who was I to actually have opinions? And thoughts? And think it was okay to express them?)
Or the times I’ve apologized when there was nothing to apologize for — think about how many times you begin a sentence with “I’m sorry but” when you haven’t done anything wrong. (“I’m sorry, but do you know what time the meeting begins?”)
There was something very freeing about my thirties and leaving the stage of life when you care about popularity. Maybe that is why it is all the more painful when I find myself caring about likeability. I know better. I know it doesn’t matter. And yet I still twist and turn myself into more likable shapes, as Adichie would say.
I don’t know what the answer is. I worry about sending the message to girls not to strive for likeability because will they get the nuance of that statement and not go off in a negative direction? Perhaps it is more helpful to let girls know that their natural state of being is likeable. As is. Maybe not to everyone, but at the very least, to someone.
It’s about being okay with the someone vs. the everyone.
* Some may disagree whether cauliflower is an unliked vegetable. Feel free to substitute in your own unliked vegetable here. Crap, see — that’s how concerned I am with being likeable! I’m worried about offending cauliflower lovers.