"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw
I grew up in a family where I was taught to be likable. To please, to impress, and to make others happy. Seems like a pretty good idea, right?
While likeability is a good trait if you want to be popular it isn't ideal if you want to achieve. Let me explain.
Popularity feels good. Being liked feels good. Humans evolved as social creatures and we crave attention from each other. This pattern plays out over and over in schoolyards, bars, and workplaces, or anywhere humans meet. And the cooperation needed for our survival can only happen if you're accepted by your tribe.
However, praise by the masses won't make you successful, let alone fulfilled. Actually it's more likely that popularity will prevent you from being successful.
Movie stars, professional athletes, and a business visionaries–we all want to be them. We grow up trying to be them. Personally, I've long idolized Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. But most of our heroes got to where they are by being unlikeable, not likable.
We love these men and women for being unique yet we internally berate ourselves for being different. These heroes have been described as annoying, difficult, stubborn, and unreasonable. Not exactly what we strive to read about ourselves in peer reviews. Sure, they have some popularity, but it's not all rainbows. Was Gandhi liked? Yes, but he also had millions of people who were against him, and ultimately murdered him. So if it's the oddballs that we look up to, why do we try to be so likable?
This aversion to difference starts early. Bullies throughout life pick on the kid who is different, on the easy target. Additionally modern culture has decided that the best path in life is to do as you're told; follow the rules, stay in line, and smile. Follow the leader and be a good girl/boy. The scripture of conformity is pervasive.
And there is true merit to fitting in. Society can't exist without collectively agreed upon rules. Early on we learn that being a three year old hellion is unacceptable has consequences. If I spit out my Cheerios one more time mom will be angry mom, so I'm going to be nice.
So we're taught to fit in. Be likable and hide your "flaws". Like the only white fish in a school of black fish you don't want to be the different one when a shark is on the prowl. Blend in and don't stand out. Seek group acceptance.
While conformity has its place in keeping society running, too much conformity stunts progress.
Differences are what make you, you and me, me. They're what make change possible. Change comes from differences, not from more of the same. After all, a species evolves based on small aberrations, on "flaws", that turn into strengths and a better way of being.
All progress comes from those who see the world differently. First they act differently and then they convince others to see differently as well. They don't accept the status quo and they don't assimilate.
Generally speaking this results in being unpopular. Many of the people who helped change the world aren't liked even in the height of their success. But they kept pushing their indomitable will against the world, and eventually, the world shifted ever so slightly.
Practice being unreasonable this week. Don't "yes" your way through life, following someone else's path for you. Be a bit more of a jerk. Be more demanding. Piss a few people off.
And be okay with it. Be okay with people being angry or mad or annoyed with you. Cultivate your ability to keep pushing towards your goals despite what others say.
And who knows, maybe you'll see the world shift ever so slightly.