Unlearning “nice”

Happy June! I cannot believe how fast this year is going by. I have now completed five months of my project to unlearn ambition and challenge productivity culture. For May, I focused on addressing my people pleasing—both at work and in my personal life.

The link between people pleasing and achievement

Over the past few months, I have come to realize that my issues around achievement and productivity in many ways stem from a desire to please and impress others.

People pleasers are often also overachievers, have a strong need for control, and suffer from perfectionism.

Because of my people pleasing tendencies, I find it incredibly difficult to say no to projects and become anxious that I may be “disappointing” people. I care so much what my coworkers think about me. I want them to think I am smart, productive, helpful, nice, competent…the list goes on. In social settings, I take responsibility for the entire situation. I do everything I can to make sure that things go smoothly and remain conflict-free.

Small wins

  • Boundaries, baby! In January, I wrote about setting boundaries at work and how I would often feel guilty for not being constantly available. By focusing on my people pleasing this month, I have started to overcome this even more. It also is a little different at my new job where there is a much better culture around work-life balance (another win for my unlearning ambition journey)! I am starting to really internalize that I don’t need to be constantly available. All I need to do is work my 40 hours, put in the effort that I see as needed, and enjoy the rest of my time off. I don’t need to go above and beyond to impress anyone.
  • Chores. In my personal life, I took a major step to address people pleasing in my relationship. Over the past few years, and definitely accelerated by COVID (being home all the time) we have somehow settled into a pattern of my taking on all household tasks, even though both my partner and I both work full time. In the past, it would take all I had to ask for help with something, and then I would feel so guilty. (This may have its routes in a previous unhealthy relationship…but that’s another story for my therapist). I came up with a lot of excuses for why this was happening… well, it’s my fault he doesn’t clean because my standards are too high for cleaning. He won’t put the dishes away in time and the kitchen will get dirty. I’m a better cook. I’m a better planner…and it’s my fault because I have control issues… and on. This month, I stopped making excuses, sat down, and typed out a list of all the household tasks. I categorized and color-coded them, and we discussed, reassigning tasks so that things could be more equal. It has been tough to refrain from doing more work, but I have been getting better every week. I keep telling myself that I don’t need to feel guilty for asking someone to do simple tasks that are part of being an adult.  The dishes still sit clean in the dishwasher longer than I would like, but l feel so much better knowing that we have a more equal partnership.
  • More small experiments. A few other small wins have resulted from some small experiments, something I wrote about in March when I was working on my perfectionism. Essentially, these are low-stakes experiments to combat the behavior or anxiety you have. I had a great opportunity to practice not being a people pleaser when we were out for a meal and the food came with the wrong side. I don’t know what came over me but I just blurted out, “oh actually we ordered tater tots.” It was no big deal at all, the waiter quickly apologized and brought out the tots (and we got to keep the mistakenly sent sweet potato fries, win!). It seems so small but this was so out of character for me, especially to not hem and haw and overthink exactly how to say it without insulting them. My partner was shocked, he said he really couldn’t believe I did that, it was so uncharacteristic. I really hope to keep it up and transfer it to more high stakes situations in the future.

I would be curious to hear from others who suffer from people pleasing. How does it show up in your life?

– M

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