From a young age, I was an outgoing person. I made an effort to make friends with the other kids in my neighborhood and at school, and I was eager to learn. In short, I had no fears about putting myself out there.
I believed everyone else was in the same boat, feeling the same way, doing the same things. I felt like other people must want to connect with each other too, and it excited me to hear what they had to say. I really loved to speak my mind and never really worried about being judged for it.
Fear wasn’t even on my radar. I’d get super excited to ride my bike and get lost, push limits, see how far I could take myself. Life was for exploring and I was into it. I never thought twice about the fact that someone might not agree with that, and in a lot of ways, that was a charm I carried.
Charisma has so much to do with trusting yourself and speaking and acting with confidence, and it’s something we naturally have, underneath all of our fears.
When we’re young, we get our first taste of people going out of their way to insult what you’re doing or speak negatively about something you really care about. So many of us had experiences, big or subtle, of teasing and bullying. I definitely wasn’t immune to it. I went to a public school that had a lot of gang and drug affiliation, and I got in fights all of the time. All the while, I still had that spirit where I wanted to really understand other people and hear what they had to say. These two forces were at odds with each other — the desire to fit in and stand my ground, and the desire to explore and connect freely.
Regardless, I wasn’t afraid to be myself, and at one point I got jumped by some peers who didn’t “like” me. I was a little dude, and got picked on playing sports and elsewhere because of my size. I stuck up for myself, but those experiences stayed with me up until I was graduating high school. I realized that I didn’t care to be like anyone else, even if it meant that people wouldn’t like me, or might even be aggressive towards me. I went to college for a semester and dropped out to become an entrepreneur, I just knew that was the path for me, and I had to take it or I’d be forever unhappy.
People criticized and insulted the decision. I got tons of judgment and negativity thrown at me simply because I made a decision that didn’t make sense to other people, but I wasn’t making the decision for them in the first place.
I was making it for myself.
So why is this story important? We’re no longer on the playground, but the reality of this social dynamic is real. We learn from a young age to fear or criticize what we don’t understand, because we live in a society that trains us to compete with each other and to follow a defined set of rules for who we’re supposed to be. That’s never sat well with me, because I believe each person has a unique path and a unique contribution to make in this world.
For me, the experience of others not believing in me and cutting me down became motivation. Instead of feeling self-pity or defeat, I felt I had something to prove. Neither of these options is really the best, but with the latter, I had the intense passion to push myself and get to where I wanted to go no matter what — to show them up. That wasn’t my only motivating force, but it’s important to highlight because one thing I believe is true is that we shape our reality through our perception. If I wanted success, I wasn’t going to create it by feeling bad about myself or letting the criticisms of others get to me.
Here’s the truth, which is completely contrary to what we’re told or taught: you’re not in competition with anybody, you’re in competition with yourself.
I learned that the hard way by trying to fight back and prove a point. If, instead, I had just shaken it off and kept my nose to the grindstone merely because I was so excited about the work I was doing, there would have been a lot less worry and anxiety along the way.
When I had my first round of big success in my early twenties, I bought a BMW, and was so excited about it. I drove back to my hometown to take my dad out to lunch, and while we were seated outside at an Italian restaurant, the kids that I went to school with were driving by and yelling out their windows “drug dealer!” and other totally pointless commentary.
What starts on the playground as taunting evolves into rumors and bullying, and no matter what it looks like, it stems from the dissatisfaction of someone who is comparing their life to yours.
Later, when I was getting better at business and really learning how to create and build something from the ground up, what developed around me was envy. I don’t mean that from an egotistical place, but I worked my ass to be successful, and I had finally created it. So rather than blatant lies being circulated, I dealt with baseless rudeness and being slighted by people I thought were friends.
To this day, I get negative (not constructively critical) comments on social media. I’ve accepted that it’s a reality of being human, that some people just can’t see beyond their own small world to something larger. The worst part is, the energy wasted on attacking or tearing down other people could have been put into creating something epic. I have no doubt that any one of these people could be successful in their own right, but instead of working towards it, they’re working against it by living in negativity.
No matter what you’re not going to please everybody. It’s important to let go of the need to always be liked, because it’s impossible, and you will drive yourself insane. You simply can’t take it personally, even though it seems personal, when people throw negative commentary or shady behavior your direction. All it is is the insecurity of that person coming through. It’s their character coming out, and it isn’t pretty. It’s not actually a reflection of you, or the truth, only you define those. So to the best of your ability, remember that it’s not really about you.
The best thing you can do? Rise above. Lead by example. Live by example.
Take responsibility for where you want to go and focus on the steps you need to take to get there. Everything else in your path is a milestone for learning, including BS bullying and hating. What matters is who is in the mirror — that’s your competition. Value the opinions of people you trust and admire, but above all else, admire and trust yourself. If you believe fiercely enough in your mission, nothing will sway you from creating the dream life that you desire and deserve.
The post originally appeared on gerardadams.com