The author tried very hard to please everybody and came within inches of a breakdown. Here’s how he broke free and tried to keep his soul intact.
I heard from a friend yesterday who has had a rough time of trying to make everyone around her happy. This person is a self-described people pleaser, and being that way has led to a big world of hurt.
I’ve written before about my previous life as a people pleaser, and my friend wanted to know how I got past it and was able to out myself.
Here’s my attempt to answer the question.
Yeah, I used to be a people pleaser. I probably still am to some extent. But nothing like how I used to be.
It caused me to work 80 hours a week, waking up each morning scared to death that I would fall short or fail altogether.
No employee ever gets back 100 percent of what they put in from the corporate machine. Sure, you can make your direct bosses happy, but the folks many layers above them in the food chain still won’t know who you are or care that you work 80 hours a week. That doesn’t make them evil. It’s just impossible to have an intimate understanding of every toil of every employee.
I learned this the hard way at Community Newspaper Company, where the pay was criminally low, and at The Eagle-Tribune, where the pressure on everyone was so intense back then that it was every man and woman for themselves. Some excellent people have worked there, and still do. But we all behave in strange ways when we’re staring down the nose of a gun. I was no different to those below me who wanted to keep me happy with their work efforts. I’m certain I hurt some people along the way.
I wanted to make every family member happy. It didn’t work, because you can never keep everyone happy when strong personalities clash. That’s not a swipe at the family members. It’s just a fact of life.
To this day, my relationship with some family members is on ice. Part of the problem is that I failed to keep them happy and take care of others I needed to be paying attention to. I reached a breaking point that has caused pain on all sides. I’m not happy about it, but it is what it is.
So when did I reach the moment of truth? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment. I don’t think there was one defining event. It was just a gradual realization that if I kept trying to please everyone, I wouldn’t be alive much longer. I would have had a complete breakdown and plunged into my addictions until they killed me with a heart attack or a blood clot to the brain.
To put it another way, this was a simple matter of survival.
If I’m trying to please every boss, friend or family member, I can’t be present for my wife and children. And I certainly can’t be present for God.
Of course, that realization doesn’t make it any easier to stop trying to please everyone. Obviously, even today, I’d much rather keep my bosses happy than piss them off. As for family, I’d still prefer we all got along.
But several things have made this easier.
Years of therapy have helped, because you’re forced to peel back every layer of every relationship by a trained professional who has absolutely no stake or relationship with the people in your life. A good therapist can look at your pain as objectively as if they were staring at a painting or watching a movie. There’s nothing personal at stake for them. And so they will cut through the crap and help you see what’s your fault and what isn’t.
The Prozac must have helped, because sometime in early 2007, when I first started taking the medicine, I stopped worrying about what my bosses would think of every move I made. It just sort of happened. But that doesn’t mean it’s a solution for every people pleaser. It just happened to work for me.
My former office mom, Anne Saita, certainly taught me that it’s better to stand up to people then to live life on your knees. Getting on your knees for God is right. Getting on your knees for a roomful of execs is wrong. Thanks for the lesson, Anne.
Whenever that moment of clarity was, I’ve found that the longer you go without being a people pleaser, the easier it gets.
Then something else happens: Most of the people around you start liking you better when your nose isn’t cemented to their asses. There’s a little irony for ya.
I’m lucky in my current job because I work with some wonderful people. But I also think they appreciate it when I speak up and take the initiative. I take the initiative on things I’m passionate about. I do things based on my own sense of right and wrong, and it just happens to fit with what co-workers are feeling. Not all the time, but most of the time. Who knew?
When there’s disagreement, nobody gets hurt, because there’s still respect.
On the family side, I’ve learned to focus on the needs of my wife and kids before everyone else. These three people are my top priority, and keeping that in mind helps me to stay steady. Not that I don’t want better relationships with the rest of the family. I sure as hell do.
The biggest thing is that I realized God comes first. When you become driven by that single belief, everything else falls into place.
It did for me, anyway.
To my friend: I’m not sure if that adequately addresses your question, but hopefully it helps all the same.