“I found out there weren’t too many limitations, if I did it my way.” –Johnny Cash

There’s just one problem if you are someone who, like me, would have a preference if everyone liked her and agreed with all of her choices.

(Wait–you thought that I didn’t have that preference? Of course I do. I mean, it certainly would be nice.)

The problem is that you’ll never win at getting everyone to like your choices.

Trust me, I used to put a lot of effort into this.

  • I’ve tried to explain everything clearly enough from the get-go, so that absolutely all people “get” where I’m coming from.
  • I’ve tried to respond to hostile emails with kindness and compassion, being “open to a dialogue” when someone disagreed.
  • I’ve tried apologizing and over-apologizing to see if that might get someone to be happy with me again, after having made what they perceived to be a mistake, just to “keep the peace.”
  • I’ve tried carefully setting up schedules to accommodate what someone needed or wanted.

But–it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as one person is happy, someone else is not. If everyone around you is happy, chances are that you are less happy from having gone to so much effort to try to make everyone happy, leaving your own happiness out of the equation.

Cutting the Bullshit

If you continue to operate this way, you will arrive at the proverbial fork in the road. You’ll either become exhausted, or you’ll decide that you want to cut the bullshit when other people hate your choices.

If you want to cut the bullshit, this is what you do:

#1: You come to understand that honestly and truly, you are not going to make all people happy, under all circumstances.

This one is critical and crucial if you plan to do anything else. You will not go anywhere until you really get, deep-down in your bones, that not everyone is going to be happy, no matter how much you explain, strategize, or apologize. It. Is. Impossible.

No matter what anyone tells you; no matter how much adults around you insisted this when you were a child; no matter how many times your partner swears that you really could be doing things differently and the relationship would be better; no matter how much you get the message and in what form?

It is impossible to make absolutely everyone happy.

#2: You come to understand that it’s not your job to make others happy. Their happiness is their job.

This is really, really tough when you have people who communicate the message, either directly or implied, that if you would just do things differently, their lives would be better. For instance, people will tell you that they wouldn’t be mad at you, had you not done the thing that made them mad. It sounds logical, doesn’t it? But really, their anger and what you did are two separate things. They get to react how they want to react.

We are, of course, talking about normal, everyday stuff. If you cheat on someone, swindle then out of their life savings, or promise to stop drinking and then go on a bender, they’re going to have a normal range of emotional responses to that, and pissed or extremely hurt are among them.

We’re talking about times when people put the responsibility for their happiness on you by getting seriously upset/judgmental/blaming because you…forgot something at the grocery store, ran late, why don’t you call/visit more often, you priced your product too high, you didn’t respond in a timely enough manner, you didn’t say “yes” to their request and now they resent you for it…

By the way? Part of really shifting this so that you’re no longer affected when others pull this with you, is to start by examining all the places in your own life where you do this (because on some level, everyone does). Whether it’s getting irritated with an aggressive driver (underlying message: “If that driver wouldn’t drive aggressively, I wouldn’t be irritated”) or making demands of your spouse (“He should listen more” equals “If he’d do something differently, I would be happier”), looking at where you do it–and the futility of that–points the way to how to turn it around.

#3: You make it a “life policy” of sorts to get grounded in your choices, first.

Make it a matter of personal habit to consider your options and feel into your body to gauge which one you are probably leaning towards, the one that you might not choose–but that you feel most drawn to. Identify that in your mind.

Then, and only then, ask for opinions.

Why? Because your internal compass is most important. Because other people’s preferences, moral values, or agendas often sway their opinions of what you should do.

Note: no one said that people with opinions were bad. Everyone collectively understands that the offering of help, advice, opinions, and the like are generally rooted in care and a desire to help.

So, opinions are not the problem. The collective buzz of opinions while you are trying to make a decision, however? The weight people attach to your decisions because of their own needs and preferences? If you haven’t used your own internal grounding as a starting point, you can skew off-course.

When you ground first in your own desires, even if you don’t settle on any absolutes, it gets easier to then hear what others think should happen and then decide: do I want, or need, to change course?

This is not the domain of selfish narcissism. If you think about it–really, collaborations are always better when each person shows up knowing what their role is, what they can contribute, what they hope to get, and what they hope to give.

#4: Accept the inevitable backlash.

There is a predictable backlash against people who ground in their own choices. You’ll be accused of…being selfish, wanting everything to happen on your own agenda, inconveniencing people, being unrealistic, being unkind, not thinking of others’ needs enough, expecting others to bend over backwards to accommodate you, and on and on.

Accept it (nope, don’t plunk yourself in a chair and subject yourself to it. Just accept that people are going to do, what people are going to do. Why? Because they just do, and because not everyone will like your choices).

Yes–do have a gut-check about whether or not you’re doing those things–domineering, selfish, etc. Sometimes people’s feedback is spot-on (humbling, but true).

Just also be sure to notice whether you are someone who has a consistent issue with hearing that kind of feedback, and then you’re always the one to re-route your course, worry that you’re doing it all wrong, or ruminate on what someone else said. These responses point to places where you aren’t grounded in your choices, and where you’re hoping to set up the situation so that everyone is happy with you.

Reality: whatever choice you make, not everyone will be happy with the choice. They probably aren’t bad people. They’re just people who would really prefer it if you made the choice that they think is best.

They’re human.

The Essential Questions

Do you want to spend your life making everyone happy with your choices?

Or do you want to make the choices that make you (truly) happy, and create connection, from there?

If there were a way to make everyone happy with one’s choices, I’d write the book on that, make a pile of money, and live a great life where no one was ever unhappy with me. That would be aces, wouldn’t it?

Instead, I invite you into this: live a life where you accept that everyone gets to have the response they want to have, to your choices. Accept this with kindness and compassion, not labeling others as “bad people” because they disagree. Do your own work, to not put that kind of pressure on others (integrity, baby). And always–always–start by grounding in yourself, before you solicit the advice of others.

That’s what you do when others don’t like your choices: act with integrity, kindness, and love.