When I landed on my new FBI squad, I was given the sobriquet of Princess. I treated the nickname with a healthy combination of suspicion and curiosity. I knew my male colleagues would watch my reaction as they asked themselves this question: can she take a joke? Better yet—can she take the irritation?
Since I’m not stupid, it didn’t take me long to figure out that other agents also had nicknames. It took years for me to realize that Bugs was christened with the name of Jeff at birth. Who knows why he was called Bugs, but the point was this: he didn’t whine and complain about it.
None of the agents complained, so neither did I. We had thick enough skin to understand that nicknames were a test of social stress. They were a way of uncovering character as well as building camaraderie.
It wasn’t about random insults; it was about, “Can you take it?”
In other words, can you be useful to the team? Can you do the job? Because life’s battles will always fall on whether or not you can put your shoulder to the task before you.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop making excuses. Stop blaming others.
Suck up and do your job because guess what? There’s always a grain of truth in a nickname. Maybe I needed to get down and dirty to do my job and stop acting like a—princess who looked down on investigations that might soil my silk blouse.
Let’s face it. Being tolerant of irritating colleagues and other people is often the first casualty of stress. The confluence of so many events in life today has produced an environment that that is both critical and sensitive.
It’s a toxic combination that makes itself seen, heard, and felt daily. Most of us can shrug off a certain amount of this toxicity, but when you are face to face with someone who accuses you of lying, betraying their trust, or not caring about other team members, it’s hard not to take it a little personally.
To be thick-skinned is about having the mental toughness to withstand the stress and pressure of life’s battles. Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based Mental Toughness Assessment.
Here is how a thicker skin can give you an advantage in life’s battles:
1. Separate Fact From Fiction
Most of us can admit that not only have we been criticized somewhere in our career, but that we’ve also failed spectacularly at something along the way.
If the consequences of you doing something wrong is coming your way, be thankful that someone is willing to take the time to let you know how badly you messed up. So what if the tone is loud and the words are sharp!
If there is a nugget of information that can help you become more successful, grab onto it and let it teach you what you need to know. When feeling down in the dumps after her employees blamed her for a glitch on a marketing program, a friend of mine was told by her boss, “It’s time to put your big-girl panties on now.”
Maybe his words were not politically-correct or even polite, but my friend got the message—grow up and face the fact that there will be a few bruises and scars in moving up the ladder of success. The key is to develop a thicker skin so you can sift through the dross to find the nugget of wisdom—and learn from it.
When you separate fact from fiction, it can prevent you from sliding down the rabbit hole of “I suck.” Maybe you could have done things better, or with more sensitivity, but this feedback can help you make more tactical decisions going forward.
How To Make It Work For You: Develop a thicker skin to fight life’s battles by writing down the basics of a critical comment so you can go over it later, when emotions have been tamped down, and you can take a closer look at the facts. Address the errors you made and how you will avoid doing the same in the future.
2. Examine The Deeper Wound
The skin that covers our bones can bruise and tear easily. Often, a scar is left and we can feel self-conscious about it, but a scar is a sign of progress. It’s the natural outcome of the body’s normal healing process as it works to repair the skin.
It’s important to remember that the tissue under the scar is stronger than normal tissue because scar tissue is very fibrous. It has been said that scars are the work of the body’s rapid response team.
At times, we will confront one of life’s battles that will hurt so much that it prompts us to take a look at a deeper wound from our past.
Self-awareness will allow you to identify the original injury so you can gain a proper perspective on your reaction to your current situation. We often do not recognize the places from our past that are still tender, and a rejection found in a critical remark can unconsciously take us back to why we didn’t get the red ball in the playground.
No one gets a pass on life. Scars from life’s battles are the places where you are the toughest and your skin is the thickest. Do not let those experiences slip away before you’ve had the chance to learn all they have to teach you.
According to psychologists, when you can identify the original injury, you can distinguish between then and now. This helps us see that it’s a different situation with different people. Often, it doesn’t sting so much.
When you can confront your inner monster, it ain’t no monster any longer.
How To Make It Work For You: Spend time getting to know who you are, what makes you tick, and what pushes your buttons. Not all childhood memories will be pleasant but toughen up. Pretending painful past experiences aren’t influencing your behavior in negative ways today is just plain stupid.
3. Stop Caring About What Others Think
Sadly, our current culture goes out of its way to look for excuses to be outraged. The wrong micro-aggression is now considered an insult and the wrong word is run up the flag pole and hailed as abuse.
I suspect this way of thinking will continue to be popular until these same folks find themselves on the other end of the equation and experience being “canceled” themselves for a misunderstanding. Or a mistake they made—and it will happen because 1) we all make mistakes, and 2) societal norms will continue to evolve.
The good news is that humankind is evolving; the bad news is that we refuse to accept this simple fact. Want to know more about inequality? Read history? Want to know more about oppression and slavery? Read history? Want to see humankind at its worst? Read history.
That doesn’t refute the fact that life today is not perfect, and that it can and should be better for every citizen of this earth, but the human race has witnessed much worse.
What is considered acceptable in this day will be condemned by future generations because they will consider themselves more enlightened and will pass judgment on our morality.
So yes, there will always be someone who criticizes you, but when you grow a thicker skin, you decide how to respond to these situations.
How To Make It Work For You: Turn your attention to what is within your control. Stop giving other people and circumstances power over your emotions and your sense of self-worth. When you do, you develop a thick skin to what others think.
4. Create A Success List
Many of life’s battles involve sorting out constructive criticism from junk comments. It’s not always easy at first glance to sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly.
How our work or contribution is received, interpreted, and recognized is often beyond our ability to control. When we’re self-sufficient, we are better able to manage the expectations of both ourselves and others. The other end of the spectrum points to dependencies—we hang on the word and opinion of others and place a high premium on things we can’t control.
Marcus Aurelius said, “The tranquility comes when you stop caring about what they (other people) say, or think, or do. Only what you do.”
We take back a great deal of control when we turn our attention to the things we do without expecting praise or approval from others. Whenever you are feeling down from life’s battles, take a long and loving look at your past accomplishments. Remember that you’ve made a significant impact on your work environment and that the negativity flowing around you does not accurately represent your accomplishments. The right attitude will help you develop thicker skin.
How To Make It Work For You: Make a list of some of your accomplishments in your current situation. Writing stuff down helps you to visualize, so keep paper and pen handy. Typing your list out on a computer does not satisfy the brain’s need for visualization. Remember projects that have gone well, people you have helped out, and other times your actions were judged a success.
5. Toughen Up
Do no harm but take no shit.
We hear a lot about virtues like kindness and mercy but if we witness something unjust or unfair, we need to toughen up and do something about it. If people treat us unfairly, we need to speak up. We don’t need to get angry, but we all need to 1) understand our moral compass, and 2) live by it.
The more we stand up for ourselves and others, the better we get at it. Confrontation doesn’t mean fistfights; we can win our battle with words and action.
Both men and women often wallow in the luxury of self-pity because it’s a passive, albeit destructive, way of looking at the problems that come up in life.
Instead, we need to push our boundaries because when we do, we also test our capacity to come out on top when a situation spins out of control.
It’s not always weakness that moves us to try something different; many times it’s a strength because when we test ourselves, we push against the norm to discover what we can bring to the table that is unique to our experiences and personality.
How To Make It Work For You: Don’t let lack of confidence rob you of the desire to test your limits to discover what lurks beneath your thin skin. Thick-skinned people are not afraid to move into the unknown because they know they will discover more about their talents and skillsets.
“If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” — Jordan Peterson.