Recently, I heard it said that whether or not someone likes me is none of my business. This literally floored me, as worrying about what others think can often feel like a fulltime job, and one that I’ve proudly managed to keep for most of my life.
I am what a psychologist – or therapist, or counselor, or anyone who has read a self-help book from front to back – would call a people pleaser. And after many years of perfecting the art of People Pleasing, however still feeling unsatisfied with the results rendered, I’ve decided to find another gig.
You may not consider yourself to be a people pleaser. I sure didn’t, mostly because the majority of people around me never appeared to be all the pleased; with me, with my choices, my looks, my work, my attitude, and many of my behaviours. However, a constant nagging voice within me has always told me that my end game should be being well liked, by everyone.
This nagging voice, also known as Fear, has accompanied me through all stages of my life. From playing in the sandbox, to sitting in the dugout (I hated baseball, but it seemed my step-dad highly approved of my willingness to play), to navigating the treacherous landscape that is high scool, to excelling in university, to working in my industry of choice (there have been a few now, just pick one), and everywhere in between.
Finally, after bestowing complements on approximately 1,170 outfits I don’t actually like, attending hundreds of parties I felt I needed to be at, losing multiple nights of sleep to either study for that impossible A+ my parents expected, or beat that unreasonable deadline that my boss insisted we commit to, I have decided it’s high time I take on the most uncomfortable and challenging challenge of all: pleasing myself first.
It’s exhausting trying to keep that many balls in the air, and further, to make sure all of the balls are smiling and satisfied, if balls were able to smile or be satisfied. Unfortunately, balls are inanimate, and even more unfortunate, the balls in the metaphor represent people who love me and who raised me, or people who pay my salary, or just people that other people around me consider to be important. I have an entire McDonald’s Playroom pit worth of balls. And in attempting to please everyone in my radius, I have forgotten to please myself.
For example, I’ve always wanted to take my already-short hairstyle and cut it right down to nothing. Sinead myself, if you will. But will my boyfriend still find me attractive? Better keep it long.
The hustle and pressure of working in a competitive industry, such as this – even with my yoga teaching to bolster my zen-appearance – can be utterly draining. I’ve often wanted to scale back on it all and perhaps move toward a different career. But there go the bylines, and the pride in saying I do such-and-such, so I’d better not, just so others don’t think I’ve just gone soft.
I sometimes want to do away with all of my social media tools, and just disconnect for a month, or year, or forever. But what will my friends and followers and frequent-double-tappers think of me? Probably that I’ve run out of things to say, and stuff to share, or that my dog is no longer cute enough to be photographed, so I’d better log in again tomorrow.
I was talking with a woman who has considerably more years of life experience than I do. Coincidentally, she also has a life today that I could only dream of one day experiencing myself. But of all the things I admire about her, her zero-fucks-given attitude toward “haters” is at the top of the list.
“How many friends, and I mean real friends do you think I have?” she asked me. “No wait, don’t answer that, because I don’t care what you think of my social life.”
She continued, “I have work acquaintances, social acquaintances, and friends. Once I was able to tell the difference between the three, things really started to happen for me in the happiness department,” she said, as if it were a statement of fact that she challenged me to dispute. “I spent too long trying too hard to be everything to too many people, and in the end, I had no clue who I actually was. I was 34, and couldn’t tell you what I liked to do for fun, or what I liked to eat for dinner.”
This, she explained, was a direct result of her own personal approach to people pleasing. The My-Opinion-Doesn’t-Matter-Anyway approach. Finally, in her mid-thirties, she decided that she’d had enough. She decided she actually hated skiing, and preferred salads to steaks. She decided that her desk job kept her restless, and working outside brought her joy. She decided that being “the best” at everything only made her an expert in burning out. And so she made the decision to stop juggling her balls.
Now in her 50s, she’s found what she calls her “sweet spot” and intends to stay there for the rest of her days, despite what anyone else has to say about it. She confides that she lost many friends in the process, or had to move them over to one of the acquaintance columns. But she also is firm in the fact that, at long last, she’s found enduring satisfaction and never-ending approval, because today, she only really seeks it from herself.
So in my ongoing pursuit of personal growth, and with a goal to shrink my rate of chronic dissatisfaction considerably, I have also decided to stop pleasing and start living. And if you don’t like that, it’s none of my business anymore. My new job is to start doing what’s best for me, and I’m gunning for Employee of the Year.