“I understand why everyone hates you.”
I was at a booksellers’ conference a few weeks ago, about to give a speech, when a suave, tanned bloke with silver hair walked up to me and delivered that opening line with a smug chuckle.
Twelve years ago, when I was a virgin author, such a confrontation would have caused me to wee on the carpet then and there. Not today. Instead, I shook his hand, smiled, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Hang around, let’s talk after my speech.”
Game of Trolls
After twelve years of being in the spotlight, I’ve got a PhD in dealing with haters.
Back in the old days — when my first book hit the stands — it was much harder to be a hater. Remember, this was years before Twitter, Facebook and the interwebs gave everyone a digital machete to slash your self-confidence.
My haters had their work cut out for them. They actually had to take the time to write me a letter, affix a stamp, and pop it into the post: “Who are you to be talking about this stuff?” “How many years’ experience do you have?” “What sort of a stupid name is the Barefoot Investor?!” “Your feet are repulsive.”
Think about the psychology of someone who would actually do that. Then think about what it must have felt like opening these horrible letters. Yet it toughened me up — and it prepared me for living in today’s hyper-critical digital age.
Saving Your Self-Confidence
I’m sure you’ve had people give you ‘unsolicited advice’ about your life. They could be your colleagues, or your friends, and they’re probably your family.
Or it could be you have jealous people who speak about you behind your back. Over the years I’ve had people say the most horrible things about me — that I have credit cards (I don’t). That I secretly take trailing commissions (I don’t). That I bought a John Deere tractor just so my boys would think I was cool (well, maybe). Hell, even today I still have weirdos who try and hack my website.
The problem is that all this stuff can rob you of your self-confidence. And that can lead you to stay in jobs you don’t like or relationships you have outgrown, and it wastes the precious time you’ve got on the planet.
Now if your mum is like my Mum, she’ll at some stage have given you this pearler of advice, “Honey, just don’t listen to them! Your father and I think you’re wonderful.”
But you do listen to them, don’t you? You replay the comments over and over, and they drown out all the nice things people say about you, and the good things you’ve done.
Well, here are the three things that I’ve learned about dealing with the doubters:
1. Understand that it’s part of your progress
You need to understand that if you are doing brave things (working hard, starting something, backing yourself), you are going to make some people around you uncomfortable. Some of them will try and ‘take you down a peg or two’. Others will give you advice just so you don’t get ahead of yourself (or, more to the point, ahead of them). The more progress you make, the bigger the target you’ll become.
Don’t be surprised by it — expect it. It’s just human nature.
2. Make it personal
Let me tell you the biggest breakthrough I ever made when dealing with haters. When I’d get a nasty letter, I’d call them up (usually by finding their phone number which they sometimes had already provided).
When I did, a few things would happen:
First, they were always shocked to hear from me. Always. That’s because trolls don’t think about the person they’re hating on. It’s all about them and their issues. So if someone you know bags you out on social media, don’t get sucked into messaging back and forth — instead, call them directly. Totally freaks them out.
Second, after a few minutes of chatting, we would either found common ground, and they’d end up being a bit embarrassed about behaving like a jerk. Or I worked out that they were total whack-jobs, and I took them as seriously as the guy who yells at me as I walk past McDonald’s.
The bottom line is this: you want to size the person up — Why are they giving me this advice? Should I listen to them? What have they achieved in their life? Do they matter?
3. Have a Laugh
These days I’m so schooled in the subtle art of not giving a toss that I’ll occasionally showcase their efforts in a ‘hater of the week’ column. These are some of the funnest columns to write — and some of my most popular pieces. And that brings me back to the silverfox at the book conference.
After I finished my speech, I tracked him down again.
Barefoot: “What do you do?”
Silverfox: “I’m a financial planner.”
Barefoot (chuckling): “Oh … now I see!”
Silverfox: “See what?”
Barefoot: “You said everyone hates me. What you really meant is that it’s people like you who hate me!”
The silverfox (who later admitted he reads me every week, so … hello!) looked perplexed.
We continued chatting for a couple of minutes, and he proceeded to give me a series of backhanded compliments — that my stuff was “just common sense” or “for the idiot in the street”.
He then explained that he catered to wealthier clients and did more ‘sophisticated stuff’, which he said involved directing his clients to buy investment properties through their SMSFs.
“Oooh fancy!” I laughed.
The truth? I couldn’t care less what he thought about me.
Fact is, I don’t write for him (maybe for his clients, but certainly not for him).
I write for my tribe, the people who get what I’m about. My Barefooters aren’t flashy. They’re hard workers who avoid debt, maintain their Mojo, and look after their family. They think long term and keep things simple. Just like me.
And thankfully there’s a lot of them. My book debuted at #2 on the bestseller last week … behind some fly-by-night author named JK Rowling.
Tread Your Own Path!