Moving from country to country while growing up, I learned to quickly adapt to new environments. I grasped how to approach people from different cultures and backgrounds and especially how to find common ground. Along the way, I strived to make myself polite and agreeable so that I would be able to fit in. Yet, this need to adjust and conform compromised my sense of self. I was molding who I was to correspond with others’ expectations of who I am meant to be rather than letting myself just be me.
There were times in my last three years at Cornell when I was content being surrounded by genuinely good company and moments when I wished I could redo everything. Two words particularly resonated from my recent contemplation: people and criticism. I would consider myself a “people person,” as I enjoy getting to know people and try to see the good in everyone even if I do not necessarily agree with them. I also tend to be critical of myself to the point where others’ disapproval has directly affected me. One of the hardest things I’ve been grappling with this semester is situations where these two key features — people and criticism — clash. My responsiveness to both people and criticism has forced me to be in a place of discomfort, of confronting how to be disliked.
In a cutthroat environment like Cornell where some students are ready to sabotage others for grades and internships, even the smallest mistakes don’t go unnoticed. I have learned that it is just impossible to not be disliked because even the smallest mistakes could override all other favors and good that I had done. It took me a while to realize that no matter what I do, certain people would disapprove of me regardless. It could be my non-confrontational personality, the way I talk, or even my hair that caused this disapproval. I just couldn’t seem to face the uneasy sensation of being disliked. Discovering that people who I perceived to be pleasant were talking behind my back was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I had.
For the most part, my non-confrontational personality has worked in my favor as I strive to make peace with those I don’t particularly agree with. But the more involved I became in my community, the more I have had to deal with situations where my aversion to being disliked has come to my disadvantage. Out of a constant desire for approval, there were times when I was unable to say no to those persistently asking for class notes, and moments where I felt uncomfortable truly expressing myself out of a fear of being shunned. I didn’t express discontent at those who, knowing that I would do favors, constantly asked for them and never reciprocated.
I would be unduly receptive to others’ criticism and reflect on what I had done wrong even when I knew deep down that other people did not put much thought into their judgments. When a person with whom I never had a longer than 30-minute conversation with labelled me as fake, I ruminated on all the possible factors that may have caused offense to them. Was my demeanor excessively polite? Did I smile too much? I continued to let others’ disapproval occupy my mind instead of standing up for myself and believing in my principles. Most importantly, those undue critics happened to be mere acquaintances who barely knew who I was. And in the course of struggling to be accepted by everyone, I was actually becoming more isolated.
I realized that in the process of striving not to be disliked, I sacrificed my own happiness and some degree of my true sense of self, when really I should be living my life for myself and not for others. Three years since I wrote about how I would defy boundaries and question state of affairs in my Common Application, I inordinately questioned myself more than the matters around me. I disregarded the importance of self-determination, letting this huge campus community overwhelm me. With one year left until the end of my time at Cornell as an undergrad, I am learning to let go and trivialize these people in my life who bring negative energy to whatever I do. I simply cannot please everyone and let minor acquaintances impact me so much. My worth is much greater than others’ perception of me, and I should never let others make me feel otherwise.
DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected] Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.