It was a big revelation to me when I realized that the people pleasing I’ve done my entire life was not, in fact, pleasing anyone. No one wanted me to go out of my way to get the special cheese or be ready for any plan they wanted. I didn’t want that either.
But I couldn’t stop.
When it came down to it, and the real reason no one wanted it, was because it was me seeking attention. Look, I got you the special cheese, did you notice me?
The internet arrived and provided many, many new ways to please people. To get attention. Many new ways for me to put my own needs twenty-fourth in order to cater to the supposed needs of everyone else, really in a bid to be noticed. The internet, in fact, told me it was a good business practice. You just have to stay relevant / be noticed / get those eyeballs.
Listen. No one wants it. No one wants the special cheese. They would much rather I buy the cheese because I want it (look, I’ve gone this far with this cheese metaphor, and I’ll take it as far as I need to), and then I’m happy to share it with them, because I like it, and they might like it too.
Or maybe I won’t share my cheese at all.
Whether people know it or not, what they really want is to be pleased by you being you. They want other people to be so jubilant in their own selves that the joy radiates outward like an earthquake of wonder. That’s inspiring. When people are putting themselves last so they can guess what at the needs of the people around them? Eh. I was going to say it’s embarrassing, but it’s more that I’m embarrassed by how much time I wasted trying to guess what everyone else wanted, when I could have made everyone happy by being myself.
And before you say “oh yes, but what about being a parent, hmm, what about that?” uh, yeah, I know. But now that I have many teenagers (four of them) I can tell you that what they want more than anything is for me to be my own self so they are also free to be their own selves. I can support them without subjugating myself. And anyone who says you need to shove your own needs in the garbage in order to fully support them has some stuff to work through. Don’t listen to that. You can make a regular dinner and take care of your own needs. Otherwise you’re Bree Van de Kamp and her osso buco.
Sometimes I know I use people-pleasing as an excuse not to do whatever hard work I need to do. I can’t do deep work, because I need to buy shorts for one of my kids. I can’t meditate because if I don’t post twice a day on Twitter, people will forget I have a book coming out. I can’t go for a longer walk today because I need to respond to every comment.
The most radical thing I can do, most days, is decide what I truly want and need to do, and then do it.
Do the Work is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.