“No one likes you, MM!”

micah maxwellI remember reading these words on the marker board before my desk. I regularly showed up to work early for a few minutes of peace to organize my thoughts, make coffee and prepare for the day.

I saw these words as I went through my morning routine that day. They ripped through my soul. I was devastated.

My hurt feelings weren’t directed at the author of those words as much as the disappointment was directed toward myself.

I’ve always struggled with not “being liked.” I’ve been passed on many promotions and opportunities because people didn’t “like” me. I always told myself that my job wasn’t to be liked. I didn’t get hired to be liked.

However, coming into this job, I wanted to try being liked for a change.

I love people. I generally enjoy being around and in front of them. I wanted to figure out the disconnect between my love of people and their love of me. This sounds pretentious, and no one should worry about being liked, but it was my reality.

We all have an innate desire to be accepted and appreciated. Some cope better than others.

William James is credited for the quote, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

From childhood to now, I have always struggled to feel accepted. This, in a way, was my inner drive to be successful. If I could accomplish this or excel in that, people would accept and love me. Whether I was getting teased at school, disappointing my teachers, getting bullied and beat up, or getting fired from jobs, all these experiences continued to add up and caused me to work harder in striving for perfection.

That endless quest for perfection frustrates me and makes me feel inadequate. This has caused me to turn my internal feelings outward toward others in frustration. As a result, I perceive that people don’t like, trust, or value me.

So, I failed—miserably—in this new job. I found myself struggling to get along with my co-workers. The more I failed, the more frustrated I became. Why was this so hard for me? Why couldn’t I get along with people? I was so confused and angry with myself. That confusion and anger became evident in my interactions.

Those words on the whiteboard were not a surprise to me. The words were more of a confirmation. I know I screwed things up. By that time, I had allowed my stubborn tendencies to take over. I was right; they were wrong. They were the ones provoking this awful side of me.

I began to hate my job. Every day I walked into work, I felt I wasn’t valued and everyone hated me. It seemed like I had nothing to contribute. My ideas were shot down whenever I suggested something or tried to participate. I knew I had experience, and my ideas were good, but it seemed they were determined to minimize my input and impact.

As I reflect, I don’t think this was intentional. I don’t think they were out to get me, but it felt horrible.

Then, I started to notice little things that no one else saw. Items on my desk were moved or taken, and offensive and degrading notes were left for me. I came in every week, and a new surprise awaited me.

My favorite surprise was a piece of paper taped to the back of the door to our office. It appeared that someone took time to visit my website or blog and printed out my list of personal values—the exact ten values as I wrote them, with an eleventh “value” added.

11. Don’t Throw Temper-Tantrums in the Office

After quickly going through various emotions, I decided this was priceless! How could I even be upset? This was freaking awesome! I saved that note and still have it to this day. That note motivates me. This has now been incorporated as one of my values. I would love to give credit to my colleague who suggested I not throw temper tantrums in the office, but I never tried to find out who it was.

I needed this value thrown in my face to learn this lesson and to understand how others saw me as a leader and co-worker.

I’ve always believed we, as leaders, are responsible for setting a standard. This includes how we manage our own emotions. We must be mindful of how we treat people despite our feelings. This doesn’t mean we can’t have emotions. It doesn’t mean we can’t struggle with managing events, crises, and failures. Instead, we use our experience and skills to manage our emotions and lead.

Every experience we have prepares us for the next opportunity to lead. We are better leaders because we have made mistakes, struggled, and worked through challenging situations.

No one wants to be around a leader who terrorizes everyone with anger, ambiguity, and retaliation, and certainly not someone who throws temper tantrums in the workplace!

We must take the time to understand what drives and provokes our emotions. We must look at situations where we lose control to assess what happened.

That experience taught me a lot about myself, and I constantly strive to be better today than I was yesterday.