Every instance of small talk I’ve had lately seems to carry the same sentiment of “I cannot wait for this to be over.” The “this” in this situation can’t be pinpointed to one thing. It’s a mixture of the pandemic, the school year, the cold weather, and so much more. In such trying times, it’s natural to want to grasp onto things that can be controlled. Some things, though, just can’t be controlled—and that’s a hard lesson that I had to learn.
It’s been a worrisome year. I found myself worrying about anything and everything. At first, it was worrying about what college I wanted to attend and what I wanted to study. Then, it turned into worrying about my grades. But throughout the phases of different life-event-induced anxieties, I had one worry in the back of my mind: not being liked.
At my job, I often talk to hundreds of people within an hour. Sometimes a joke doesn’t land right, or I mishear a name, or I’m simply the person who answers the phone after someone has had a bad experience. I’ve heard negative comments in passing said by people I don’t know well. I’ve had difficult partners for academic projects, friend breakups, and more. I would constantly beat myself up and wonder what I could’ve done differently to make a better impression.
Time after time again, I found myself worrying about opinions that I couldn’t control. Then I stumbled upon a simple response to the anxiety, and it changed my perspective for the better:
You can’t expect to be liked by everybody. You don’t even like everybody.
It may sound harsh, but it’s true. Think about it. Think about that one person that you can’t stand. That one person who, even though you can’t pinpoint why, grinds your gears. Maybe it’s the tone of their voice, the way they sit, or something else entirely. Whatever the real reason is, it’s true. Everyone has someone they don’t particularly like—whether it’s a celebrity, a coworker, an acquaintance, or a stranger in passing.
Of course, there are people who are widely disliked for good reason (see Ivan the Terrible, whose reputation precedes him). But one person not being your fan doesn’t mean that you’re one of those people who are understandably disliked. It’s okay to be disliked. It means you’re human and not compatible with every person you meet—now that would be superhuman.
You can’t control how others perceive you. You can only control yourself. Much like art, you can only do part of the work, and the rest is up for the viewers to conjure.
While accepting you can’t control this phenomenon is amazingly beneficial for your own peace of mind, it isn’t the only thing that you can bring to your attention to accept a lack of control. The nature of the past year has been very restricting for a multitude of reasons. Things that you can control include (but are not limited to):
the way you treat others
how you spend your free time
reaching out to friends and family
At the same time, there are also little things that you can’t control. In these moments, it’s best to remember that you have nothing to do with the situation. Things that you can’t control include (but are not limited to):
a global pandemic
wifi cutting out during online classes
the midwestern late-April snow
the way people treat you
Balance is a word that seems impossible to entertain lately. Maybe it is something that isn’t entirely attainable, but there’s always the possibility of tipping the scales a little more towards balance. I personally decided to relinquish my control (or lack of control) of others’ perceptions of me. For others who don’t have a problem recognizing that issue as out of their control, almost any random inconvenience can apply. By focusing on what you can control and accepting what you can’t, even the slightest change of mindset makes a difference.