Life is not a popularity contest |

Life is not a popularity contest

In spite of what your brain might tell you, life is not a popularity contest.

In the old days, we would tiptoe around trying not to step on poisonous things that might bite. Back then, the next worse thing to being eaten was being kicked out of the tribe. The human brain has evolved by figuring out how to keep us alive. Over time, the threat of being eaten shifted to surviving the elements all alone — and that meant learning how to stay in everyone’s good favor.

Not a lot has changed. If anything, we’ve grown into this hyper-sensitive, self-obsessed, ego-driven species, ultra-fixated on popularity. Here’s some truth: We can’t make everyone happy all the time. We can try to get clarity on what seems to be real all around us. We can try to get honest with ourselves about how we fit into the random whirlwind of existence we call life here on Earth. We can try to orient ourselves, seeking to collaborate with those we resonate with, sidestepping away from the ones we don’t. We can try to tread softly, hoping to minimize our negative impacts. And we can try to leverage our time, treasure and talents with those we hope to serve.

But we can’t make everyone happy all the time. And we won’t. So we should drop that racket and move on.

Here’s some truth: When you put yourself out there — whether to speak up at the dinner table, paint a picture or run for public office — you open yourself up to the relentless scrutiny of those around you. Their brains are programmed to keep them safe; so upon seeing something new, they immediately launch into judgment. They ask themselves, “If I align myself with this, will it be good for me — or will it jeopardize my standing in the tribe?” People are engineered to rationalize whether they like something (or someone) or not on the basis of how it may affect their own personal safety.

That’s life. It shouldn’t stop us from looking for opportunities for self-expression. It shouldn’t stop us from seeking clarity in our hearts about what we feel is right — or wrong. It shouldn’t stop us from advocating for what we believe to be true for ourselves. When we allow what others may or may not project on our own sense of self-worth, we become paralyzed to the whims of what is common. We stifle the very essence of who we are, what we believe — and why we exist. Don’t get me wrong — that’s a safe way to go. When everyone becomes a critic watching safely from the sidelines, too afraid to add something new to the conversation, there’s very little at stake for them.

We tend to think that people either love us or hate us. But the truth is most of us are wrapped up in our own lives, our own stories, our own realities to care much one way or another. The truth is, most of us are doing the best we can with what we’ve got at the time. None of us are infallible or immune from mistakes, uncomfortable gaffes and untimely opportunities for epic embarrassment. Even when we’re on our game, and things are dynamite — we won’t make everyone happy all the time. So, we should stop trying to.

Instead, we should seek to know ourselves. We should reach out to those we hope to serve. We should avoid those who intend us harm. We should apologize when things go awry. We should take ownership of our impacts and contributions. We should fix our mistakes where we’re able — and move on.

It’s too easy to get caught up in what we think others think. Most of the time, whatever they think is colored by their own experience — and that equation is far too complex for one person to carry on their shoulders all alone. Instead, we should attempt to follow in Gandhiji’s footsteps, attempting “to live simply — so that others may simply live.”

Read Evan’s bestselling new book, “ClutterFree Revolution,” available on Amazon. Learn more at Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of Intentional Solutions, delivering hands-on organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 970-366-2532, email or become a friend at

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