One of the joys of getting older for me has been developing the confidence in my own voice, thoughts, feelings and reactions to things.
When younger and woefully under-confident, I would look to other people to give me social cues as to how I should behave, how I should be thinking and, in extreme cases, even adopted other people’s belief systems.
For anyone who has or is living a people-pleasing life, you will know how utterly exhausting and futile that type of existence is.
Not only can people-pleasing not be sustained for good health, the very people we often try to please are also looking to others for their own acceptance cues. What that means is that which is acceptable a moment ago can be changed in a heartbeat and goalposts moved so far into foreign climes we often feel like confused tourists without a map and unable to speak the language.
Yep, bloody exhausting.
Then two things happened to cure me of people-pleasing. Firstly, I sat in a library studying one day when I came across the words ‘They say, what they say, let them say.’
Words I have never forgotten and passed down to my own children. But back then, the words kept enticing themselves around my brain and nudging the exciting thought that I could actually divest myself of the responsibility of worrying about what other people thought. Could I? Could I?
A deeply ‘Ah ha’ moment for me.
Couple that with baby-steps wisdom I learnt from a dear friend 30-years my senior, and the road to people-pleasing became closed to me. Through our many insightful conversations, she taught me that:
1) people are mostly thinking about themselves;
2) people often project expectations onto others to mask their own insecurities;
3) people are not thinking about you as much as you think they are;
4) you will never know what people are truly thinking.
You will never know what people are truly thinking about you. Yes, even when you mould yourself into their likeness.
No wonder life had been tiring.
There again, it is easy to forget simple wisdoms.
When I started blogging four/five years ago is a good example of when I lost my authentic self for a short while.
Aping the style of who I saw as successful bloggers, my own voice was subjugated for theirs. Couple that with stats-watching and my authentic self was gagging for air only months into my blogging journey. And what success I did enjoy didn’t feel like a well fitting shoe. It made silent squeaks when I walked and left me feeling intangibly ill at ease.
Then I wrote a post late one night I had no intention of publishing. No intention because it was too rich with what I really thought; what I really felt; and what I really wanted to say out loud. It wasn’t particularly disrespectful to anyone, or told anyone else’s truths but my own, but boy it felt so good to just be me. Flaws and all. It was intoxicating and more exhilarating than page views and comments and blah, blah, blah.
My authentic self came up for air.
I no longer had to think about what to write, how to write or when to write. I wrote about whatever was moving my head or heart at any give time; I wrote authentically; and I wrote when I damned well pleased, choosing not to publish when I really had nothing to say but using 500 words to say it. Oh, and I stopped looking at that false master, stats.
Is it easy to move away from people-pleasing? Practice is the key. Tiny, infinitesimal little practises that those around you won’t even notice, but which will go a long way to helping you find and embrace your authentic self. Like being offered coffee or tea. Resist saying things like ‘Whatever is convenient,’ or ‘I don’t mind.’ Make a choice if you really know what you would like. ‘Tea, please.’ Who did that hurt?
And remember, what should it matter when any reaction is probably not about you anyway? Cease thinking about it. And where that is not possible right away, at least give yourself permission to stop churning what someone may or may not be thinking about you for, say, 5 minutes? The next day make it 10 minutes. The next day…you get it.
In any case…
They say, what they say, let them say.