Hi, There...Nice to (Finally) Meet You
I’m a master people-pleaser. And like many of us, I’ve spent most of my life perfecting my craft. Give me a room full of people and I’ll show you…whatever version of me they want. Within seconds of meeting someone new, my finely-honed skills will detect how I should behave in that setting: gregarious or demure, self-deprecating or emboldened…whichever the situation calls for. Need me to smile through the pain of a hard day? On it. Need someone to say “Yes” to something no one else wants to do? I’m your girl.
Many of you can relate, I’m betting. There are so many of us out there, working hard to make ourselves likable to everyone around us, avoiding conflict, terrified that someone might be disappointed in us or (perish the thought) angry with us. All of this people-pleasing usually boils down to one thing: we’re afraid to show our true selves.
It feels much easier in the moment to just adapt to what is expected of us. We prioritize being liked and accepted over our own needs. Maybe we were maltreated at some point so we learned people-pleasing along the way as a survival technique. We feel responsible for other people’s emotions and we can easily spiral into labeling ourselves as “selfish” when we try to set boundaries. We wear guilt like a second skin. It becomes a full time job to maintain the image we work so hard to procure—that we are always positive, always uplifting, always ready to take on more. You before me, always.
The medical field is a wasteland of people like this.
We all know this at some level but it bears repeating: there are real-life consequences for people-pleasing.
Personally, I have people-pleased myself into a toxic workplace. Into fielding inappropriate comments from superiors and colleagues. Into shrinking my intelligence because it intimidated male classmates or colleagues. Into smiling and saying, “Oh, it’s ok,” when someone wrongs me. You see, people-pleasers attract people who behave badly, because they can sense that you would rather keep their secrets for them than confront them and come off as a troublemaker. This has been a pattern in my life and I have had to accept that I was inadvertently sending the message that I would tolerate this type of behavior in order to be “likable.”
As a consequence of people-pleasing, I sat as quietly as I could through my school years, making sure few heard my voice or noticed me in class so that I wouldn’t be seen as “too much” (I’m not even sure what I thought “too much” was, just that I didn’t want to be it). Trying to be liked by every person I came across. Wearing beige clothes so I would blend in...and my gosh, I look awful in beige. I carried on with this nonsense through college until I finally, finally broke out of that shell in medical school.
As an adult, I now see the truth in what I did. I robbed my classmates of my voice, my opinions, of collaboration. I robbed myself of a chance to express myself and practice polite debate and to stand in my own truth. I attracted every narcissist and codependent person for miles around.
I finally started to learn my lesson with time and experience but I wasn’t cured of people- pleasing yet, not by a long shot. I still wanted to be liked, to be “nice.” And all of that chameleon-like personality shifting I mentioned in the first paragraph is exhausting, especially when it’s your job to interact with lots of people each day. I began to feel like I was being pulled back and forth like a yo-yo. I began to feel inauthentic.
Then over the past year, I had an experience in which people-pleasing was no longer an option. I was up against something bigger than “niceness” could fix. I was forced to stare this situation down with bold fortitude, when my younger self would have smiled and acquiesced to ease other people’s discomfort. I was forced to use my voice, my real voice, to stand up for what is right and for those who don’t have the same privileges in life.
That was my wake-up call. Since then, I’ve been on a journey to discover who I am. Who I truly am, no pleasing, no hiding. Turns out, I really am nice. But only as nice as you’ll let me be, by your actions and your choices. I’m also fair and plain-spoken and tough as nails. I’ll tell you what I think. I’m not a secret-keeper anymore—if you behave badly, I will take care of it so that I can protect others from you (or you from yourself). I’m as open and real as they come now. And I never wear beige…I still look terrible in beige.
I know the secret now. There is no such thing as people-pleasing. Because you know what? The people who are worth pleasing don’t like it when you’re trying to win them over. It’s boring and it reeks of insecurity and it’s so very two-dimensional. And the people who like your people-pleasing ways are more than likely not looking out for your best interest—they are looking out for their own.
Let’s be messy. Let’s be honest, especially with ourselves. Let’s screw up and say the wrong thing and come across as too much. Let’s show our true reactions and emotions. Those are the kind of people I want to be around. Those are the kind of people who please me now.
There’s only one of me now..I don’t allow myself to test the room anymore before I interact. I can’t control your reaction to me. I’m not in charge of your emotions and whether or not you’re disappointed. I still hope you like me, but I actually don’t really mind either way as long as you really see me.
So, hi. It’s nice to (finally) meet you.