In the past I’ve had the tendency to put my wants and needs pretty far down my priority list. You see, I’m a recovering people pleaser who, incidentally, has worked in the demanding and, often, drama-filled world of corporate finance.
In the past the needs and wants of everyone around me would trump any needs and wants I had for myself.
Whilst a lot of that behaviour was simply part of my personality, a lot of it was a product of working in corporate finance where the job and its deadlines came head and shoulders above you and your personal life.
Many a time, especially at the beginning of the year when the financial statements were due, I’d regularly find myself leaving the office at 3am only to return at 8am. Deadlines had to be met, there was no other option given to you. It didn’t matter how crazy and ridiculously stupid those deadlines were. It didn’t matter how exhausted you were.
When you live a life like that, it’s hard to fully let it go, even though you know it’s not a healthy way to live. Somehow, in some crazy universe in your mind it feels right and normal, when, in fact, it’s the furthest away you can get from right or normal.
Partner that style of working with someone who is naturally a people-pleaser and you have a bomb just waiting to implode.
Since leaving corporate, I’ve always had the attitude that if I’m stressed I only have myself to blame as I am the controller of my own deadlines and stress. I now know that deadlines aren’t the be-all and end-all, that no-one is going to die because I miss a self-imposed deadline (just like, even though you were trained to believe otherwise, no-one would have died if I had missed the company-imposed deadline for a set of financial statements), that the world will not stop revolving or come tumbling down because things are late or get skipped (in the exact same way that the world wouldn’t have fallen apart had a corporate deadline been late or missed).
So, whilst I can still be tough on myself, if I can’t meet a deadline by working normal hours, then so be it.
At the same time, whilst I’m no longer ruled by deadlines, deadlines are also good. They’re an incentive to keep going, to keep moving forward, to keep achieving. So, whilst they don’t control me, I still like to work with them.
In saying that, deadlines for a people-pleaser, even a recovering people-pleaser like me… well that can be quite a potent combination.
Most of the deadlines I set myself don’t just benefit me, they also benefit my students and my clients. So, if I set a deadline and don’t manage to meet it, I still have this feeling that I’m letting people down… and that’s not a feeling that sits comfortably with me.
At the same time, however, I’ve learned about compromise and prioritising – prioritising myself first in my life. I no longer work in a company where missing a deadline creates a drama that is blown out of proportion. I now work in an environment where I control the dramas (or at least attempt to).
Last week could have ended up as a drama, leading to me working long hours in order to stick to my weekly routine of writing my weekly email and its partnering blogpost. And it did start to head that way before the recovering people pleaser within reminded me that, whilst my students, clients and those who read my emails are important, whilst routine and consistency is important, nothing trumps the importance of my health, wellbeing and happiness.
And so, last week, I chose to miss sending my weekly email and blogpost.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a choice that came easy, and it certainly wasn’t a decision that didn’t try to haunt me for quite some time. Even though I knew it was the right choice for me, it took me a while to accept it and allow myself to be okay with it.
Last week we were celebrating a very special birthday in our house. I had planned not to work on either the Monday or Tuesday, Tuesday being the day of the birthday and Monday being a day I wanted to spend baking a cake (it really was an extra special birthday), making final preparations, and cooking a special pre-birthday meal. Even though it wasn’t my birthday, I wanted to enjoy the occasion and not be left running around like some crazy woman trying to do all things for all people.
I had believed I would have plenty of time to write my weekly email and blogpost. However, the closed captions on one of my latest courses had just been released and I wanted to get them edited over the weekend. And the editing took much longer than I had wished. Which meant I ran out of time.
Now, let’s just be transparent about this. I didn’t actually run out of time. Time kept coming. It didn’t come to a stop or an end. If I had chosen to (and believe me, I almost did), I could have stayed up late on the Monday night, just like I was used to doing when I worked in corporate, and I could have written my weekly email and blogpost. However, I had set myself a deadline to have everything finished by late Sunday afternoon. And whilst I (just about) managed to finish editing the closed captions in that time, I hadn’t had a chance to write my weekly email or blogpost.
It's hard when you’re a recovering people-pleaser to not return to your old ways and habits when something falls short or you feel you haven’t accomplished what you wanted, especially when it impacts others. It’s hard to stand firm and not talk yourself out of the #1 spot on your priority list and in your life. Like any addiction (and people-pleasing is an addiction), recovery is a life-long journey. Every time you fall off the self-love bandwagon and give into the pressure placed upon yourself to people-please, the harder it can be to hop back on to that bandwagon and stay on it.
And so, I made the choice to give myself a good ‘talking to’ so I would remain on the bandwagon. I made the choice to keep myself at the top of my priority list and not give into the temptation to people-please.
And it was tough. But, as you probably know if you’re reading this, I managed it.
People-pleasing is something many of us have grown up adhering to. For example, we may have been told we had to share our toys with our siblings even though we didn’t want to or knew that they would break them. We may have been taught to say ‘sorry’ at times when we knew we actually didn’t do anything wrong. We may have been encouraged to join in with games that, perhaps, we didn’t enjoy or felt uncomfortable with, perhaps with people we didn’t enjoy or felt uncomfortable with. We may have been trained that saying ‘no’ was rude and unhelpful.
Such examples, and many more, teach us to fit in and not stand out, to blend in and not express our opinion… all of which moulds us into people-pleasers.
And such examples inadvertently teach us to place others above ourselves on our priority list which is basically what people-pleasing is – an urge to please others even at the expense of yourself.
If you are a people-pleaser, like I was for most of my life (and still struggle not to fall back into that pattern), then I invite you to sit back and look at some of the times when you chose a specific action which was a product of people-pleasing. In each and every one of those times, did you feel amazing and floating on cloud 9 as a result of your people-pleasing choices? And did you feel truly, deeply, and completely appreciated by those you placed above yourself on your priority list so you could people-please?
When we people-please, the majority of the time we do so at the expense of ourselves. Either we get hurt or upset, or feel disgruntled or resentful as a result of our choice. Or those we have worked to please don’t fully appreciate our efforts or understand the sacrifice, large or small, we have made for their benefit.
The majority of the time, in a people-pleasing scenario, one person gets hurt in some way or other. And the majority of the time, that someone tends to be the people-pleaser.
So, if people-pleasing can actually hurt us rather than help us, why do so many of us do it? And, even more importantly, why, when we know it’s not benefitting or supporting us, why do we not make any attempt to break the pattern?
Well, often people-pleasing is so ingrained in our character that we often don’t realise we’re doing it, or we don’t know any other way to be. And when we do become aware that we are people-pleasing, often we don’t know how to change or break a habit and pattern that we have, most likely, been practising since childhood.
If, through reading this or even through self-exploration, you have discovered that you have people-pleasing tendencies, where do you begin in changing your ways? How do you reduce your people-pleasing tendencies? For that guidance, I have turned to the positive energies that surround us and wish to help us journey more smoothly through our human adventure.