Quick: Would you rather be liked or respected?

Yes, I know, you want to be liked and respected. But if you had to choose only one — because sometime you may have to — which would it be? Your answer to that question could change the course of your life.

Confession time: I was 9 years old, in sixth grade, and in a new school for the third time in 3 years. That alone, being the new kid, 2 years younger than everyone else, made me different. Furthermore, this particular school had a very, um, developed culture, one which I neither knew nor understood. To make matters worse, I quickly ended up on the ‘wrong’ side of a political discussion, that is, taking the opposite point of view to everyone else (I’m pretty sure we were all parroting our parents’ beliefs, and my parents just thought differently than the other parents).

To my parents’ great surprise, I instinctively framed the question as one of being liked (for agreeing with everyone) versus being respected (for backing up my opinion with research, which I did). I held my ground in arguments for a week or so, during which time I was ostracized, and then the whole episode faded away. What I took from it, though, was the knowledge that I could stand up for my point of view — and live.

Wanting, or needing, to be liked is natural, and inculcated in us as toddlers. If we act in ways that please our parents (aka the adults who control our lives), then we get fed and held and smiled at and other treats. If we don’t please our parents, we’re punished in a variety of ways. So we learn to please others as a way of getting what we want, or at least avoiding what we don’t want.

But it often goes too far, and becomes co-dependence, a state in which you deny your own needs to the point of not even being able to recognize them any more. You value others’ approval of your thinking, feelings and behavior over your own. This people-pleasing behavior may even attract (or allow) abuse. Eventually, you no longer know who you really are. You go along with the crowd, you think inside the box, and you wonder why you’re unhappy.

Choosing being respected over being liked, on the other hand, means following your own conscience, even when it leads you to do things that others don’t like. That can get you ostracized, which can mean feeling mighty lonely.

The upside of this is that you’re clear about who you are, and what you want. You’re free to learn what you want, think what you want, to say what is right and appropriate, to stand up for yourself. This is very difficult as a kid, because you are truly stuck — you don’t get to choose your neighborhood or your school. But as an adult, you can move, you can change jobs, or even fields — or you can just find new friends!

Now: which do you choose, being liked or being respected?

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (www.888-4-hollis.com), who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.