How Not To Take Things Personally: Frederik Imbo (Transcript)

Frederik Imbo talk @TEDxMechelen

Here is the full text of actor Frederik Imbo’s talk: How not to take things personally? at TEDxMechelen conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: How not to take things personally by Frederik Imbo at TEDxMechelen


Good evening. Good evening. How are you? Are you good? Great.

Welcome, welcome, welcome to this match. This match will take exactly 18 minutes. Okay, and you’re all part of the same team: Mechelen.

Okay. Hey guys, I would like to see fair play on the field, respect and positivity. Is that okay for everyone? Cool. Good luck.

One year ago, I decided I wanted to become a football referee, not because of the money, though. I only get paid €20 per match. So I won’t really get rich by it. Will I? No.

I decided to become a referee for two other reasons: one, to stay in good shape; two, because I wanted to learn how not to take things personally.

I can see some people nodding; you’re probably thinking being a referee is the perfect environment to learn how not to take things personally. Isn’t it?

Because the spectators hardly ever shout encouraging or positive things. No.

Oh, what do they shout? Come on. Yeah, yeah, good. As a referee, I’m the scapegoat. Apparently I’m always wrong. It’s always my fault. And I wanted to learn how not to take all this personally.

Because I really struggle with this. For example, when I drive slowly, because I’m trying to find a specific location and somebody is just driving behind me, I feel hunted, especially when they start honking and flashing their headlights. I take it personally. I know I shouldn’t. But it just happens.

Do you see what I mean? Yeah.

Or when somebody cancels an appointment last minute I get the feeling that I’m not important enough. Again, I take it personally. Even professionally.

I’m a public speaker like tonight. This is what I do. I give keynote speeches and I really like it as long as I can draw my audience into my story. Because the very moment I see somebody is not paying attention, for example, when somebody is looking at his smartphone, it just happens. I take it personally.

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Relax! You are safe tonight. Don’t worry. Feel free to take your smartphones and you can even start talking to your neighbor; I will not take it personally.

Why not? Because now… here and now I’m very conscious that this can happen and more importantly I have a strategy to deal with it.

So tonight, I would like to share this strategy with you. Are you interested? Cool.

Because I guess I am NOT the only person in this room who sometimes takes things personally, right?

Imagine… imagine you invite a friend to go to the movies and she replies: “Oh sorry, I have to work.” But you see a picture on social media of her having dinner with some friends that very night.

Or imagine you really have worked very hard on a project. You’re really proud of the end result. But the only thing you get is criticism.

So you come home and would like to wind down and share this terrible experience. But while you’re telling your story the other one walks away to switch on the TV.

Now who would take one of these situations personally? Show me hands; come on. Lots of you. Why?

WHY DO WE TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY? Somebody says or does something and bam! We feel hurt, neglected, offended, betrayed by the other one. That’s what we believe, though. It’s the other person’s fault; he’s responsible for what we feel. He’s the one to blame.

Now hang on. Hang on.

Who says that? Which part of us is speaking? It’s our ego. Our ego thinks that others should take us into consideration. Our ego doesn’t want to be criticized; hell no. Our ego wants to be acknowledged. I’m right.

Is this what you want? Do you want to be right? Ahh, that’s exhausting. When my ego takes over, I’m fighting all day. I’m in a constant struggle with the rest of the world. And it drains my energy.

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Wouldn’t it be so much easier to not take things personally? Because then no one has power over you; you’re free. You experience much more harmony and connection between you and other people. Of course, because your energy can go towards nice things, instead of endlessly battling against the things that drive you crazy.

So the question is: Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy? I know what some of you are thinking. I will make sure I will be happy by being right.

Well, how do you do it?


You are standing at the kickoff of the match of your life, the match by which you will learn how to stop taking things personally. So as a referee, I brought my coin for the toss and every coin has two sides: heads or tails. And they stand for two strategies…. two strategies to no longer taking things personally.

Sir, sir, good evening. You’re the captain of this huge team. You can choose: heads or tails?

Okay. You’re lucky; it’s heads. Are you ready for the first strategy? Okay, here comes.


What do you mean, it’s not about me? This sounds weird; doesn’t it. Because when I take things personally, I’m convinced it is about me.

When I see someone is looking at his phone, I feel offended. I think hey I’ve put so much effort and time in this presentation. I want respect. I think me, myself, and I… sounds familiar, no? Yeah.

But in fact, it isn’t about me. What if I try to look at it from the other person’s perspective, asking myself why, why is he or she looking at his or her smartphone? Maybe he has just received an important message, one he has been waiting for.

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Or the topic of my presentation is not really his cup of tea? Could be. Or on the contrary he finds it very interesting and he wants to take notes on his smartphone? Very smart to do that by the way.

I simply need to shift my focus from me to we and I won’t take it personally. If I try to see the intention of the other one, I make space for understanding instead of irritation.

Does this ring a bell with you?

When you put your son to bed but he doesn’t want you, he throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming: I hate you? Do you take that personally? No, no, you don’t because you know this is not about me; it’s about what he wants, what he needs. He’s angry because he just wants to stay up a bit longer; that’s all.

So the first strategy to not take it personally is: it’s not about me. Look at the other person’s intention. When a driver is tailgating and flashing his lights, he probably does it because he’s in a hurry; it’s not about me. You see it’s as simple as that, in theory.

Because in real life it turns out to be a hell of a job. Do you have any idea, ladies and gentlemen, how many thoughts our brain produces a day? 50,000!

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