Saturday, January 21, 2012

On Being Thick-Skinned

A coworker of mine faced a less than pleasing situation this week that left her bugged up and freaking out. Favorite has always told me that if you're right, there's no need to convince others. Rest in the fact that you know you're right; don't worry about proving it. I shared this insight with her and then encouraged her to develop a thicker skin. She responded, "I'm not like you."

I told her that developing thick skin generally requires lots of situations in which things don't go as planned. And my life? Rarely goes as planned. But in the last two years, I've really been learning what it is not to seek the approval of others.

Despite my hardcore facade, I'm not much on confrontation. By nature, I'm an avoider, because I just don't like dealing with the unsatisfactory. Sometimes the unsatisfactory follows me, though.

Take for instance, a past issue at work. It wouldn't have mattered if I was the most qualified teacher on the face of the planet. I could've earned five hundred awards from prestigious institutions all over the world, but due to the nature of the issue, I still would have faced the problems I faced. Eventually, I had to get comfortable with the fact that some people will think what they think, and they are welcome to their own opinions. Does it make those opinions right? No. But it's also not my job to convert the masses...and chances are pretty good no conversion was going to take place on my watch anyway.

I've encountered people who have chosen me as the focal point of anger when several other people have done the exact same thing I did.  Do you know how frustrating that is?  Were our actions wrong?  (I'm using the plural since they were collective actions.)  No.  They just weren't the decisions the other person preferred we make.  Why did that person focus on me?  No idea.  Maybe the person felt more comfortable directing his/her anger in my direction.  Maybe s/he knew I could handle it.  Maybe s/he liked me less than everyone else in the group?

These experiences have left me on the other side with a couple of options.  I can get my panties in a ruffle about all the people who don't like me.  (And I have.  OH, believe me.)  Or I can quit being so sensitive about the stupidity I can't control.

For the most part, I've chosen the latter.  Forgive me when I say that I don't much care if you don't like me.  I wish it could be different.  I would've worked to make sure our interactions were pleasant ones--especially if I felt like you were also working for pleasantness.  Believe it or not, I really wanted things between us to be good, because I know there are a lot of great things that can come out of relationships with others.  But I know that the only attitude I can control is mine.  So if you dislike me, feel free to waste your time and energy doing it and telling other people how awful I am.  I have other things to be concerned about.

On the other hand, there is this small (teeny-tiny) group of people who generally manage to ruffle my feathers--mostly because I love them.  Because I want them to know me.  Because I want them to see me.  When things go wrong on those fronts, I totally get the paranoia and the lack of thick skin my coworker has developed.  But even in those situations, the only reaction I can control is mine.  Do I always get it right?  I'd say I manage about 15% of the time.  The other 85%, I get my feelings hurt and react accordingly.

And, eventually, some of the people who ruffle my feathers end up transferring to the group that doesn't register on my radar based on reaction alone.

It's not the way I'd want it, but I can't spend my life seeking approval from people who will hold it over my head just to watch me jump for it.  Instead, I've chosen to live my life as best as I can.  (God knows I'm pretty much a failure at that, too.)  Beyond that, I don't have enough time to worry about why you don't like me.  I'd be glad to apologize over my wrong doing.  But I'm not going to waste time trying to anticipate and deconstruct every.single.look. 


HopeAnn said...


This post really hit home with me. It seems I've walked in similar shoes. I detest confrontation too; I avoid it like the plague. It's been ten years of dealing with some of these people who enjoy whispering and looking behind my back. I always feel like I'm looking over my shoulder. Always doubting if I'm really a good teacher. Believing their poison. My husband tells me repeatedly "Who cares what they think?" For some reason that I can't explain, I did care. Other teachers and parents have lifted me up paying me kudos for a job well done. Bottom Line: I just wish that I had tougher skin.

J. Sapp said...

Thanks for this! It's something I am working on. I am so non-confrontational, and despise when anyone is upset or angry with me. I am trying to learn not to let it bother me and to care more about what God says!