I was scrolling through Facebook before bed a few nights ago when I got had a brilliant idea to look up an old friend I hadn’t heard much from recently. Let’s call him Joe. When I got to Joe’s page I was a little startled to see an icon next to his profile encouraging me to add Joe as a friend. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Joe already is my friend! I added him several years ago … we’ve instant messaged before … I’m certain that he is my friend!” And then it hit me.
Joe unfriended me.
My first reaction was embarrassment. Next came confusion. Why would Joe unfriend me? Was he offended by pictures of Huck turning 4 years old? Did I “like” a picture that he didn’t like? Does he disagree with my political stances? Was he tired of seeing pictures of my quinoa? Then, I felt outrage. How DARE Joe unfriend me? JOE unfriending ME? That’s funny. Does he think he’s BETTER than me? He should feel lucky that I ever friended him in the first place! Who does he think he is?!?
Never mind that I haven’t communicated with Joe in about two years. Never mind that I haven’t spoken to him in 16 years. Never mind that I haven’t actually laid eyes on him in almost two decades. The sting of the realization that Joe unfriended me was strong. I was angry, resentful and even a little bit ashamed. This was clear evidence that someone out there in the world doesn’t like me! What could be a worse feeling than that?
Clearly I was a little off-balanced at that moment. Losing Joe’s Facebook friendship wasn’t the end of the world. Yet, it took me a little bit of thinking to come to grips with it, nonetheless. To get a little perspective, I had to remember some of the lessons this very blog is supposed to teach me.
Many years ago I took a product marketing course in San Francisco, and one thing I learned at that seminar has stayed with me to this day. The instructor said, “Their opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.” She was speaking about CEOs who swoop in near a project’s completion and add their opinion about the color of a Submit button or something extraneous like that, delaying the project needlessly and indefinitely to serve no real purpose. She wasn’t talking about friends, and she certainly wasn’t talking about Facebook friends because Facebook had yet to be invented. Nonetheless, I believe the same principle applies here.
Everyone has an opinion about everything. Every. Single. Thing. It’s impossible to know, let alone understand or appreciate, everyone’s opinion – and a person’s opinion is often irrelevant to the situation, adds little or no value, and absolutely cannot be changed. We try (oh, how we try!) to change people’s opinions all the time, but it can rarely be done. What’s more, everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. It is absolutely a person’s right to hold any particular belief, judgment or attitude about anything they darn well want to. It’s part of being human. It is not my job to change their opinion, if it doesn’t affect my well-being. So the question is, then – does a person’s opinion about me affect my well-being?
My knee-jerk reaction here is to say, “YES!” If someone doesn’t like me, my self-esteem suffers. My ego is bruised. I feel awful, and ashamed, and less-than.
But maybe there’s another way to look at this. Maybe a person’s opinion of me is none of my gosh-darn business.
Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.
More accurately, in this case … Your opinion of me, although interesting, is irrelevant to my self-worth.
This is a very difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. You see, I have spent my entire life trying to get people to like me. I have always believed that if people liked me, it was a sign that I was doing alright. If I had people’s approval, then I must be succeeding at life. This thinking worked pretty well for me for a while, when I was simply trying to do as my mom and dad told me. It got more complicated as I started to grow up and get conflicting messages from people I wanted to like me. Was I supposed to say no to drugs, as my parents taught me, so my parents would like me … or should I say yes to drugs, as my friends wanted me to do, so they would like me? In school, would it be better to focus on getting my teacher’s approval (thus earning good grades and actually learning things), or getting my friend’s approval (not necessarily learning as much, but laughing more)? It became clear to me at a very early age that getting people to like me was quite complicated, indeed.
I now realize that getting everyone to like me is not only complicated – it’s impossible. It’s also destructive.
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy spinning my wheels, trying to get other people’s approval, and in doing so I’ve missed the entire point. I’ve failed to obtain the approval of the one person who truly matters to my well-being.
I’m still a little hurt that Joe unfriended me. My ego is still bruised. And that’s okay. I’m going to get over it. Is Joe planning to physically attack my family in the middle of the night? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. Is he spreading unfair rumors about me online or in real life? Again, no. He simply doesn’t want to be my friend on Facebook. Maybe he doesn’t like my political views, and maybe he doesn’t like me. It honestly doesn’t matter.
Joes’ opinion of me, although interesting, is irrelevant to my self-worth.
Losing one friend on my Facebook roll call is not the end of the world. Because Facebook may be a race to see who can collect the most friends, but life is not. And in life, my opinion is the one that matters.
I can clearly use more friends. Follow me on Facebook!