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Facing the People-Pleasing Dilemma

grumpy puppy

This week I’ve had to come face-to-face with one of my “issues.” I’m a people pleaser, and it’s so ingrained in me that most of the time, I don’t even notice how much that desire to please others drives my actions.

Here’s an example.

Recently I’ve been frustrated that I don’t have more private clients.

I got sober, for God’s sake. And I help people for a living. C’mon, Universe, that’s got to be a reason for new clients to turn up, right?

I’ve been stewing about this all week.

I’ve come up with some really excellent rationalizations and convincing arguments for why it’s not my fault that I don't have more private clients. I’ve pinpointed, with precision, how the responsibility can be placed on external factors beyond my control.

The problem is that this doesn’t do a damn thing to bring me to a solution. No matter how often I say to the Universe, “Look, I’m always helping other people. Why can’t you show me the money?” the Universe is not delivering.

Which is perplexing. I am really good at what I do. I am helping others. Why am I not getting clients in return?

It finally dawned on me that I should ask myself the question I ask my clients when they are in an uncomfortable situation: “What’s the lesson?” or “How is this situation perfect for you?” (Yes, they usually scowl at me and roll their eyes.)

At first, I rejected the possibility that there was any lesson for me. There isn’t anything for me to learn. The Universe is just mean.

And then came an answer.

“You have to help yourself, first,” the Universe said. “And you can’t keep putting everyone else’s agenda first because you want to be liked.”


I was like, “No, no, no that can’t be it. If I’m helping someone, then I deserve to have good things happen to me. Why should I have to do something different?”

And then I was reminded of a very pointed question a friend asked me last week when I was fuming about having to take on extra work: How much of what you are doing is driven by wanting to please others?

The answer to that was easy: Um, 100%.

It’s the reason I will bend over backwards for my corporate clients to meet at a time or a place that’s not convenient for me. But maybe they’ll give me a good evaluation and that will make my boss happy. Gold star for me!

It’s the reason I offer to give someone a ride, even when it’s out of the way. But look at how nice I am! Another gold star!

It’s the reason I work on Saturday to help out my corporate colleagues who got overloaded with resumes and need short-term assistance. Look what a team player I am!

It’s the reason I volunteer for activities I don’t really want to do. Look what a good person I am!

I’m really racking up those gold stars, aren’t I?

Except that I’m not.

What I’m racking up is a mountain of resentments.

When I do things because I want to look like a hero (and who doesn’t like a hero?!), I often turn into a very unlikeable person—one who is bitter, resentful and whiny. Because I didn’t really want to do those things. I just wanted to look good, and therefore, be liked.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love helping people. It gives me true joy. But I can’t help people at my own expense.

Sometimes my body knows before I do that I’m motivated by the wrong things. I come down with a cold. I’m so tired that I sleep through my Boot Camp class. Or, my patience is very, very thin and I yell at people when I’m driving. I don’t reach out to friends to see how they are.

The irony, of course, is that when I spend too much energy on trying to be liked, I become very focused on me, which is kind of the opposite of helping others.

The most unfortunate thing is that I collect gold stars instead of doing what’s truly important to me; doing the things that fill me up and move me forward so that I can help people without resentment. I stay stuck in self-pity and I don’t show up for myself—or anyone—the way I want to. No one wins.

So, here’s what I’m going to try to do instead.

I can always ask for a moment to consider the request. That “moment”—which can be a minute, an hour or a day—is the time I need to check myself before I wreck myself.

If I’m trying to play the hero or trying to get approval, I might be better off saying, “No.”

I can also be on the lookout for classic “I want people to like me” statements:

I’m afraid they they will think ___ unless I do ______.

I’ll feel guilty if I don’t _______.

If I do X, Y, Z, they will think _____about me.

If I don’t do XYZ, everyone will think I’m a total loser.

The truth is, we don’t have any control over what people think of us. What we do have control over is how we show up.

As much as I really, truly want to blame other people for my circumstances and how I’m thinking and acting, it’s all on me.

Sometimes being a responsible adult is such a pain in the ass. ;)

If you suffer from the disease to please or you’re interested in learning more about private career coaching, give me a shout to set up a free coaching session.

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