I have been a people pleaser my whole life. I genuinely want the people around me to be happy, to be content, to have peace. I want to help cultivate that in their lives, even if in small ways. But I also know that I don’t do well with tension and conflict, and the easiest way to avoid these things is to make sure the people around me are happy. I know, it’s super healthy. I don't want people to be disappointed or upset, and I especially don't want them to be disappointed or upset with me. I say yes to requests before I have time to process what is being asked of me, let alone if I actually want to do it (or even should do it). More times than I can count, I've "yes-ed" my way to a too-full plate and an empty cup.
This has applied to nearly all areas of my life. My time, my energy, my heart, my body. I know there are times that I must step back and say no, that I can't possibly keep giving from an empty cup, but I also can let myself be convinced that this is selfish. Because saying “no” means someone else must pick up the slack I leave behind. And there is always slack, right? Not because I’m amazing and wonderful in everything that I do, but because, well, that’s life. There’s always something to be done, a conversation to be had, an area in desperate need of more.
And there’s always more. If you don’t say no, there’s always more. And always someone who doesn’t understand no, who sees it as a direct reflection on how you feel about them, versus the truth which is that a person can be buried under all of the more more more. A people pleaser could please their heart right into the ground and still it wouldn’t be enough.
I've come to realize that whether my intentions are noble or fear based, no amount of what I can give will fill a hole I'm not meant to pour into. Thus I feel steadier and more at peace with myself than I previously have. I know I can’t please everyone and I’m okay with that about seventy percent of the time (fine, fifty percent of the time) (OKAY, thirty-seven percent of the time. Get off my back already). I can attribute that to three things:
God: I have “known” God my whole life, but not always in forms that were true to His character and Word. I spent most of childhood and youth either trying to please him (the ultimate prize for a people pleaser!), or hiding from Him when I knew that I was failing. I have spent the better part of my twenties relearning who He is and who He says I am. There are specific things I am called to do, and certain gifts He has given me to use, but neither one of those is doing All. The. Things. And understanding that has pushed air back into my lungs during times when I thought surely I would drown from all that I felt I had to do.
Time: This is so cliché I’m irritated by it, but it’s true. Some things can only be learned with enough time to let them sink in. I couldn’t understand as a child the importance of knowing who I am because I simply hadn’t had enough time with me yet. I couldn’t have known at fifteen that life could be more than a desperate need for acceptance and love at all costs, because I hadn’t gotten to the part in my timeline where those things weren’t such a dark weight on my heart. Just this year I’ve really started to grasp the absence of time; the reality that someday what I know now will be different, or gone. I don’t have time to please everyone when my children are growing older at the speed of light and everyone else is, too. Are you finally a grown up when Landslide really sinks in?
Safe People: Proverbs calls us to guard our hearts, but what a beautiful gift to be surrounded by people who help you with that task. Who really see you, the shiny outer layer and the gritty, gross bottom dweller stuff underneath. When I am feeling desperate and misunderstood by the world; when I am trying to please people who tell me "who" I am and it seems so different than who I thought I was or who I’m at least trying to be, the people who have linked arms with me hold up a mirror and say, “This is who you are.” Sometimes that means they will tell me things that are painful to hear, because I am human and flawed and they know I can be better. Sometimes that means clamping their hands over my ears and drowning out the black noise with reminders of who I really am. Both are such a blessing, and I can’t believe I am able to to be known and loved in this way.
There will probably always be a part of me that jumps to say, "Yes! Of course, sure, yes, no problem, yes, uh huh, yup, totally, I can make that work." There will be times when I run myself ragged and have to be reminded that I was not made to be all the things to all the people. But more and more I am finding I can be pleasing without pleasing everyone. Hallelujah.