From the time most of us are very young, we are taught told that we are to be selfless. “Put other people first.” Be polite. Don’t offend. “Don’t be selfish.” Share your toys. Play well with others. Give. All good things–in moderation. Sometimes, along the way, some people take all this a step further–they start deriving self-worth from actions that please other people. They build a tally-system in their head, and start keeping score. One point for each “please”. People ask for favors, or simply state their expectations, and the people-pleaser acquiesces and complies. It makes them feel loved and accepted.
Until one day, a light bulb comes on for the people-pleaser. All of a sudden, the people-pleaser realizes that she is not living her life, her dreams or her plans. She is living what other people have determined should be her life. And she realizes she is miserable. She lacks joy. She feels the burden of obligation hanging over her head at every moment. She has no time for herself. She feels drained. And then, the resentment starts to build.
She has realized that “playing well with others” does not mean she is required to be a doormat. Being polite does not lead to success. Being courteous does not mean letting herself be walked on.
The challenge she now faces is how to start saying “no” without guilt. She must come to the realization that saying “yes” does not equate to “being polite”. In fact, saying yes can often put the people-pleaser into a position of over-commitment and burn-out. The people-pleaser must realize that it is not “selfish” for her to put her priorities into line, and she must come to terms with the fact that she has to be a top-priority. If she puts everyone else first all the time, she’ll end up with nothing left to give, and the viscous resentment cycle will continue.
The solution lies in learning to listen to her own needs, being honest with herself about her own dreams, and being fearless about setting boundaries. She can realize this, but the hardest thing in the world she’ll ever do is implement it, because it requires a total shift in thinking. To succeed, she must make a conscious choice to reprogram her mind.
If you think this might be you, there are some questions you can ask yourself.
When you’re asked if you want to participate in a project, the question you really need to be asking yourself is “Why am I really saying yes?” Are you saying yes to being involved on the project because it’s a cause you really believe in, or are you saying yes because you’re getting a point in your head for saying yes? If it’s the latter, then your motivation lies with pleasing others, and you’re on the path to burn-out.
If you find yourself committing to projects because you’ll “feel bad” if you don’t participate, you are allowing yourself to be motivated by guilt, and you are cheating yourself (and those involved with you on the task) out of a top-notch experience. You’re not going to give your authentic best to a project out of guilty motivation.
If you find yourself participating because “everyone else is doing it”, then you’re motivated by acceptance. Here’s the truth about “acceptance”: people who only “accept” you because you are doing things that please them aren’t really your friends. Why do you want to be “accepted” by them anyway?
We already tackled fear, right? Ultimately, that’s the only reason you’re still saying yes. You’re afraid the worst will happen if you say no. But really, the worst that could happen is probably a little bit exaggerated as well.
In the end, by continually saying yes, you’re only giving away your power, and the only person you end up hurting is yourself: saying yes when you should say no destroys trust in yourself, damages your confidence, and lowers your self-esteem. The viscous resentment cycle continues.
SAY NO. Believe it or not, there is a pile of happiness and joy in saying “no” and moving on! Don’t look back!
The power to make this change lies in the realization that you have a choice. You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to be happy. You’re in charge of your life. They aren’t.
This step has been one of the hardest to name, because it encompasses so much:
- Quit giving away your power.
- Realize that you have a choice to be happy. Your life is the result of your choices.
- Quit feeling guilty for saying no.
- Start saying no. Set boundaries. Fearlessly.
- All with a short caveat: Don’t take it too far and get totally selfish or let your ego run out of control.
It’s not just about saying no, it’s about choosing happiness. It’s about choice.
I love Eleanor Roosevelt quotes lately. I think I would have loved to have had dinner with that woman. I’m reminded of one of her quotes, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
If you think you can’t say no, then it might be time to admit that you need to say no. For me, I’ve learned lately to recognize a trigger statement in my mind. If I’m procrastinating, or beating around bushes, I’ll ask myself “why?” If I start to answer with, “well, because I can’t…”, then I have my answer. Actually, I can. And Eleanor Roosevelt is in my head, telling me I can.
You have a choice. Can you choose to change things? Can you choose happiness? Will you?
If you’ve been following along, or if you’re just now jumping in, here are the previous posts in the Finding Purpose series: