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.

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.

ALSO READ:   You are the exclusive author of your story: Jovan Mays at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

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.

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.

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.

ALSO READ:   Adriana Galván: Insight Into the Teenage Brain at TEDxYouth@Caltech (Full Transcript)

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!

And guess how many of them are positive? Only 10,000!

So this means that 80% of what we think are negative thoughts. That’s a lot; isn’t it.

When you see two colleagues talking to each other and just then they look at you and they start laughing, do you think: oh, they must have noticed my new shoes and I want them too?

Now, or do you think: darn, they’re laughing at me; they’re gossiping about me.

So it takes a lot of effort to correct yourself and say: hang on, I have no clue. They might be laughing about something that has nothing to do with me.

So seeing the positive intention of the other one requires a lot of discipline and training. And that’s why I became a referee to train my brain, not to take things personally.

I trained my brain and not run half a week the entire period of a match, I said this for the football dummies.

And now before the match I’m warming up, not only physically but also mentally. I give myself some pep talk in the dressing room: Frederik, watch out! Lots of things will trigger you during the game. You’re going to make decisions who some will not agree with and they will shout unpleasant things at you.

So I tell myself: Frederik, don’t take it personally. It’s not about me. They just want to be right. They simply want their team to win.

You see, when I focus on the intention of the other person, there is no need to take it personally. When I applied this strategy very consciously, I admitted, I feel much more at ease on the field. When the coach, the players or the spectators do not agree with my decisions, I’m less easily thrown off balance.

This strategy, ladies and gentlemen, works. Not always, unfortunately, because some words they shout at me like here do really hit a raw nerve: You’re a loser; choose another hobby. You know what! Go fishing.


Maybe they are right. Perhaps I took the wrong decision. Maybe I am a loser, honestly. That’s how I feel sometimes.

You see this. Every coin has a flip side. When this first strategy: it’s not about me doesn’t work, it simply means it is about me.

I have to look in the mirror and question myself as a beginner referee, I still feel insecure, especially me. I never played soccer. It is about me because it has something to do with my insecurities. I doubt about myself. Or a part of myself that I haven’t come to terms with.

Do you see my point, ladies and gentlemen? Even if I know that a driver is only tailgating because he’s in a hurry, I still take it personally when he honks, while he’s flashing his headlights.

So I must question myself probably I was driving too slowly, I’m aware of it. I just don’t… I just don’t like that clumsy part of myself. Why else would I take it personally? Right?

ALSO READ:   How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Team: Amy Edmondson (Transcript)

When I say, ladies and gentlemen, you are an orange; who would take this personally? No one, right? Why not? Because nothing you believe that you are in fact an orange… an orange? Unless of course that you’re a ginger and you feel bad because of that, which is luckily not the case with me.

But when someone says: Frederik, you are so selfish! Ouch, I do take it personally and it only happens because I know there is some truth in it. I am honest, I’m aware of the fact that I do not always take into account other people’s needs.

When you are being criticized and it hurts, chances are big that this is rooted in your childhood. Maybe as a child you were never good enough. When you came home with a nine out of 10, they said hey, and why not the 10?

You see, you can only take things personally if it somehow touches a raw nerve, and that’s the moment to give yourself some empathy. Ooh, this hurts darn. I’m longing so hard for recognition. I feel sad if I don’t get it.

You see, and you can also why not speak up. Just tell the other one: what’s going on inside you? Hey I’m in the middle of my story here and you just walk away to switch on the TV. It feels as if you don’t care about my story. It’s not nice.

By opening up, by being vulnerable, by telling what you feel without blaming the other one, you increase the chance that the other one will understand you and take your needs into account. You see what I mean.

To conclude: how not to take things personally?

One, it is not about me. Look at the other person’s intention.

If that doesn’t work, two, it is about me. Give yourself empathy and speak up.

Ladies and gentlemen, please, pretty please, do not take it personally. But I really do hope that you will take a couple of things personally within the next hours and days, only if you do, you can test out these two strategies.

Imagine… just imagine if we could all put this in practice, wouldn’t that enhance our relationships enormously, together we could create a better world? Wouldn’t that be great?

And as a referee, I even earn some money by it. Who’d also like €20 to learn how not to take things personally? Show me hands; show me hands.

Oh so many. Who still wants the €20 now? Who still wants the €20 now?

Who still wants the €20 now? And who still wants them now?

Why do you still want these €20? People may attack you, criticize you, or ignore you. They can crumple you up with their words, spit you out or even walk all over you.

But remember, whatever they do all say, it will always keep your value.

Thank you.


Download This Transcript as PDF here: How Not To Take Things Personally_ Frederik Imbo (Transcript)


Resources for Further Reading: 

The Mindset and Attitude of Thinking Wealthy: Jim Rohn (Transcript)

Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck (Transcript)

Sometimes You Need to Change Yourself to Be Yourself: Mindy Gibbins-Klein (Transcript)

How to Love Yourself to the Core: Jen Oliver (Transcript)

Scroll to Top