The People Pleasers

by Deborah A. Bailey

"If momma ain't happy, no one is happy." I've seen this quote (or a variation of it) a lot lately. I doubt it's a new quote, but it's rather popular. When I was thinking about this article topic, that quote came to mind right away. How much time are you spending working to make someone else happy? I don't mean when we do things for people because it brings us pleasure. I'm talking about the instances where we have not set proper boundaries, and we're completely steamrollered into doing what everyone else wants. When that happens, we don't get pleasure - and we probably are not getting much respect either.

People pleasing can happen for a variety of reasons. Some people learn it as children because they might have received more attention by complying. Others may have had to accommodate chemically-dependent or alcoholic family members and gave in to keep the peace. Still others may have received the message that they didn't deserve love if they disappointed someone else. All of these things can lead to a belief that your needs are not all that important.

When we're in the workplace, pleasing those in authority is a way to stay employed...for a while anyway. The employee who is willing to compromise is looked at with more favor than the one who is always rocking the boat. That makes sense, of course. If you've got to get work done, you want to have team players. However, there's a thin line between being a team player and being someone who has no boundaries.

I can remember early in my corporate career, feeling guilty for going home on time. There were several years where I put my work life first and my own life came last. I got used to giving up everything and never complaining. In fact, I was rewarded for doing so.

My turning point came when a co-worker dropped dead of a heart attack in his 40's. A few months before, I'd overheard other coworkers complaining that he wasn't doing enough. How much is enough? I wonder.

As a business owner I've found that I still struggle with those pesky boundary issues. Only now those issues affect how I present my services, how I market my business - even how much I feel my services are worth. When you are used to giving, it can be difficult to consider your own value. When you've spent years making others happy, how do you suddenly think about what you need?

I'm not talking about compromise here. That's a totally different thing. In a compromise all parties give in the hopes that the overall end result will benefit everyone. When you're looking to please at your own expense, it's really appeasement. As in, if I do this for you, will you please cut me some slack? Sometimes that works, and sometimes the pleasing never ends. Then one day you find yourself drained, resentful and tired of trying to fill that bottomless well. Or if you're a business owner, you're probably broke.

Yes, delighting your customers is good business - but if you don't appreciate your own value it's going to be bad business. What we believe about ourselves and our worth will be reflected in our business results. Perhaps we could hide that in super-sized corporate entities, but we can't hide it out here.

So, what do I recommend? It's deceptively simple, actually. When the situation comes up and you're being pulled into the people pleasing thing ask yourself, does this feel good? If so, go and do it. If not, know that you are not doing it for you - but in order to make someone else happy. When we genuinely give (and receive) it feels good for everyone. Yes, I said "receive." Often people pleasers have that one flaw - we find it very hard to receive. So we give and hope that if we give enough, we'll receive something at some point.

Save yourself the trouble. If you need help, ask for it. If you want support, get it. Yes, it'll feel strange at first, but it will get easier. It's your turn to be pleased. Are you ready?

Deborah A. Bailey is author of two non-fiction books including, “Think Like an Entrepreneur: Transforming Your Career and Taking Charge of Your Life .” She's also the creator and host of Women Entrepreneurs Radio, a weekly internet talk show. Her fiction work includes a short story collection and a novel, available on 
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