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Let them go

You can’t please everyone. You can’t please even half of everyone. You couldn’t understand the needs, wants and opinions of everyone if you dedicated the rest of your life to it. If you did manage that impossible feat, there would eventually be a time when you had to decide to do something to please some of them while displeasing others.

There are people out there that will think your work is unfounded, ugly, worthless, meaningless, offensive and/or wrong-minded. Perhaps more hurtfully, there are people in this world that will care for your work so little that they won’t even think anything of it at all. If you are anything like my thesis students, you have a list of these people in your head.

Today I had my students make a post-it pile of people they are serving with their thesis. I created a five bucket taxonomy to get their juices flowing:

  • People you are making something for
  • People who are experts in the field(s) surrounding your work
  • People who might help your career
  • People you wish to make proud
  • People you shouldn’t care about the opinions of, but do

Next I asked them to prioritize all these people against one another. But to start out the exercise I had them discard the pile of people who they shouldn’t care about the opinions of, but do. I got some puzzled looks.

Neon green Post-It note torn into four pieces with PPL YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE *illegible* BUT DO written on it.

Them: “Why did you have us write them down if we aren’t going to use them in the exercise?”

Me: “Writing them down and discarding them was meant to start your process of letting them go.”

Sometimes we carry these people around with us for too long. Sometimes these people impact and mold our work by sitting in our mind reminding us of other ways we could go. Sometimes we have to let these people go to move forward in service of other people.

Who are the people you shouldn’t care about the opinions of, but do?

Write them down. Then let them go.