‘It is not your job to be likeable, it is your job to be yourself. Someone will like you anyway’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
For some weeks now, the above quote has been trending. Hillary Clinton used this quote in her new book ‘What Happened’. It’s been all over the internet, especially the Nigerian internet space (permit me to refer to it like that). Hashtags on Twitter, Instagram. There has been a lot of discussion around people basically being themselves in a world that actively encourages you to be fake (Whatever fake means to you).
My younger brother, who still struggles with his manners, kept using the hashtag all of last week. I know that this statement sadly will be used to explain away ill manners.
It caught my attention first because I love Adichie’s work. In my head she is my very strong willed big sister, that person I’ll be afraid to tell when I let my husband get away with too much nonsense. She openly admits to feminism.
I am still finding my way; sometimes I am sure I am a feminist, other times I am halfway there. I am proud that Clinton used her words.
The second reason the quote came to my notice is the way it kept getting repeated even in instances and examples it shouldn’t appear in. It reveals that all of us are trying to find our way out of conformity. However I don’t think Adichie or Clinton had some of us in mind when they used those words.
To be likeable is to be pleasant, friendly, easy to like, engaging, warm, convivial.
Deep down all of us love being liked. I remember a friend calling a brutish boss one night, and telling him she really admired his leadership style. Her life became noticeably more bearable after that call.
Deep down being likeable isn’t our real problem, the issue is developing a dependence on likeability. This is where we are all pretty much headed.
What does it mean to be likeable?
It’s simply what most of us both ordinary folks and popular/famous people alike do every day; we wake up, dress up and go about our normal business.
Strangely, also being unlikeable is not too complicated, at least for most of us. I think most of us can be unpleasant without thinking too much about the consequences when there is need for it. There are times when we have to set certain people straight, or come out of uncomfortable situations.
Now the hard part in my opinion is being ‘yourself’. Being yourself is not always possible, it sounds like really simple advice. I have heard it a million times in different situations; when you are meeting the in-laws for the first time, your best friends and family give you this advice ‘ Nne just be yourself, don’t look too desperate etc. When you are meeting an important person or attending an important interview, you tell yourself to be ‘yourself’, friends tell you ‘don’t let the nerves get you, it’s easier if you be yourself’… but when we examine the existing realities, we know that people don’t act the same in front of everyone.
Chanting the mantra of being unbothered with your likeability status may now be the perfect excuse to avoid making an effort to continuously improve especially on some vour unpleasant personality traits. Most of us will hide behind our focus on ‘being ourselves’ disregarding the idea that that ‘self’ may need some fixing sometimes.
I think Adichie’s sentiment as popular as it is becoming, is not for the weak. It’s definitely not for everyone, because being yourself is not usually the magical solution to all of life’s problems. Before we take this quote to heart you should ask yourself ‘who am I?’
This person that is sarcastic, and you proudly take on may just have been a character that rose out of the ashes of painful experiences from the past and we proudly say ‘this is who I am’ .
This may not be your true self, but what I’ll call a learned self.
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