Every now and then I come across something in pop culture that worries me. I'm not alone in this, of course; as each generation passes we look to the kids just a little bit younger than us to justify our own behaviour to ourselves. Look how crazy they are. See, we weren't so bad after all. I'd like to think my concerns are more profound that petty generational griping, though.
At the top of this post there is a picture of a cap for sale from a popular online clothing retailer. Embroidered on it is the phrase "haters gonna hate". I'm not certain of how this phrase was popularised, but that it has become so widely understood that clothing manufacturers put it on $60 baseball caps shows that it has resonated deeply within our culture. To me, it alludes to an idea buried within our psyches, a tool that we have all used to motivate ourselves to achieve something we thought we couldn't otherwise.
On the surface, it's not a bad message: regardless of what you choose to do in your life, people will question you, so you might as well go about things your way. The problem is that you don't actually have haters but are pretending you do to convince yourself you are doing difficult or interesting things. If driving teaches us anything, it's that most people are too caught up in their own lives to worry too much about yours. It takes a certain kind of self-involvement to believe that you have amassed a legion of haters jealously observing your every move.
This phenomenon is understood quite differently depending on the context in which you are referring to it. If you believe you are doing what you want instead of what the world expects you to do, you can say that "haters gonna hate." If you are motivated to get rich because kids at school teased you for being poor, you're doing it to "show them". We go into battle against the abstracted enemies we create to convince ourselves we are making the right decisions instead of searching for this assuredness within ourselves.
I have no doubt that creating these abstracted enemies is an extraordinarily powerful motivational technique because I have often relied upon them as a source of inspiration in the past. Don't let the fact that I'm the one currently denouncing this trick you into thinking I've figured this out, because I have as much to learn as anybody. It's been three and a half years since I made lifestyle changes to get into better shape, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't tiny remnants of chubby, thirteen year-old Jonathan remaining as I headed to the gym tomorrow night.
So far I've described these foes as abstracted, but for some people the enemies may not be abstract at all: they might have names, faces and memorable taunts. The effect is the similar, though. If you're on the treadmill to prove to those girls from high school you won't always be a fat bitch, you've externalised your motivation. We need to consider the kinds of people we actually want respect from before we consider seeking retroactive approval that does nothing to heal old wounds. Any changes made as a result are rarely sustainable in the short term and can be unhealthy in the long term, too.
Jose Mourinho is perhaps the world's most famous and successful soccer coach. He is renowned for his charisma and ability to manipulate players and the press. Mourinho develops team spirit by fostering a 'siege mentality,' convincing his players that the media, referees and administrators are conspiring against them. His teams, often featuring some of the most creative and technically gifted players in the world, play a rigid and uninspiring style of soccer that achieves short-term success but does noting to promote sustainable or philosophical success. Mourinho is sport's master of abstracted enemies.
Don't just commit to making positive changes in your life, commit to making them for positive reasons. You have absolutely nothing to prove to past versions of yourself or to people that never cared about you in the first place. True change, the kind of personal growth we crave, comes from wanting to be better for yourself and those who care about you. Justify your decisions and actions by what makes you happy, not what you think other people want or expect of you. Do not rely on others in your search for validation and peace because these things can only be found inside of you.