My mouth dropped to the floor.
An older white lady was yelling at my mom as we stood in line for food stamps.
It wasn’t like today’s system, where people get a debit card they can swipe for groceries.
This was old-school paper food stamps you handed over to the grocery store cashier.
People saw you. They knew you were in the system. This woman, my mom, and I were all in the system.
Before my 8-year-old mind could wrap around what had just happened, the lady spit in my mom’s face.
My eyes bulged wide open.
This woman was in the same broke-ass line as my mom (who’s white) and me. And somehow she thought she was better than us. What sense did that make?
Believe it or not, that moment was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. It taught me an invaluable lesson:
Not everyone likes me.
White people hated me because I’m black.
Black people hated me because I’m white.
Nothing I did could make everyone like me.
Don’t get me wrong: it took me a long time to see it as a gift, but it was.
That moment solidified in my mind one thing: I’m not going to give a damn what people think of me.
And neither should you.
Why I Go by JT, not JeVon
Not everyone is going to like you. That’s a fact. Even if you are really popular, there will be people who don’t like you for that popularity. Most people don’t learn this lesson until they’re in middle school, high school, college, or God forbid your first career.
I’m fortunate to be mixed race, which forced me to learn this lesson early.
Because of this, I never felt the pressure to make everyone happy, because no matter where I went, someone like that older white lady wouldn’t like me.
The sooner you accept that not everyone likes you, the more successful you’ll be, both personally and professionally.
Realizing that will help you better navigate a world that is inevitably full of people who won’t accept you.
My given name is JeVon. But I go by JT.
Because I understand the world I’m navigating: a world that will preemptively judge and dismiss me for having a name like JeVon.
Right or wrong, that’s just what happens.
So instead of ruminating on the injustice of people’s assumptions, I accepted that some people don’t like me, and I adapted.
Find Your Priorities
Now, to a certain extent, everyone cares about what people think. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
But the key is not letting other people’s perceptions impact your every choice.
I could have used that experience in the welfare line to become cynical, but I chose not to. I could have said, “Screw that lady, and screw anyone who doesn’t like me.”
Instead, from that realization, I chose not to give a damn what people thought of me unless it related to one of these three priorities:
- 1. Am I kind to people?
- 2. Do I have an incredible work ethic?
- 3. Do I dress nice?
That third priority might be a surprise—and I hesitate to even include it—but believe it or not, that priority is for me. How I dress affects how I feel about myself, so I make it a priority, but it’s not as important as whether I’m kind to people or my work ethic, so it’s below the other two.
The point is, you shouldn’t completely dismiss what other people think, but you can develop priorities to help you limit the effects of other people’s perception of you.
What are your priorities?
Many people—even business leaders—are so busy being concerned with what other people think that it blocks them from success.
Ask yourself what matters most to you. Outside of those priorities, what people think about you doesn’t concern you.
Make the Unpopular Decisions
As a leader, you’ll always upset somebody with your decisions. It’s inevitable.
The more your company grows, the less likely it is that you’ll make everyone happy, ever.
For example, at Scribe we have an annual week-long Summit that is necessary for all Tribe members to attend.
It’s an integral part of our culture. All of the remote workers from around the country come to Austin to share ideas, fun, and strategy in person. We communicate and adjust the direction of the company. Everyone needs to be there.
If people miss that event, it will deteriorate our company over time.
Recently, we had one person who couldn’t make the Summit. We couldn’t come together on a solution for him to come, and he really needed to miss it…so he had to leave the company.
He was an excellent Tribe member, and we did not want him to leave, but we made a decision early in the company’s history that it was a nonnegotiable to attend all Summits.
That decision upset a lot of people in our company…including me.
As a leader, you have to be willing to make unpopular decisions like that one, and risk people not liking you, for the betterment of your company and the people in it.
It all comes down to this:
Are you going to live your life in fear of people disliking you—or will you accept that everybody doesn’t like you already, and arrange your priorities and choices accordingly?
Are you willing to accept that not everyone likes you?
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