I used to be my own worst enemy, and I had to undo a lot of self-defeating habits and beliefs to get where I am today.
At this point in my mid-30s, I’ve emerged as a resilient, successful and fulfilled woman with a great career and loving partner, but it didn’t come easy.
In my career and in my personal life, I’ve had big wake-up calls that showed me why my people-pleasing tendencies were undermining everything I wanted to accomplish in life.
I know a lot of readers can relate to this – but what can we learn from this?
These are the hard-won truths I’m sharing with everyone today. I had to learn these 10 brutal truths about people-pleasing. I had to find out the hard way that being overly agreeable was sabotaging my dreams.
1) You can’t make people like you – it’s up to them
I grew up seeking approval from my well-to-do academic parents and remember always showing them my homework and waiting for them to congratulate me.
“Smart girl!” were the words I so loved to hear.
This desire to seek approval, to be the golden child, continued into my career and later life, and I found it very hard to accept that people’s opinion of me mostly wasn’t in my control.
Sure I could be my best self – I was and I am! But I couldn’t ensure that my jokes would be funny to my new work colleague or that my personality would strike a chord with new people I met.
Some people just don’t like you. Some do. It often has as much or more to do with them as it does with you.
2) Many people will treat you poorly – if you let them
In my twenties I was extremely ambitious and had the blessing to get a great education.
I parlayed that into an excellent job and stepped into the corporate world with lofty aspirations. I was positive, competent and friendly – far from some stereotype of an ice-cold boss lady.
But after working under a series of male bosses I couldn’t help but notice that they seemed more interested in my appearance than my capabilities. This continued through several jobs, unfortunately.
Condescending behavior, veiled as harmless banter, became a form of bullying. I vividly recall an incident where a senior partner at my firm belittled my achievements by attributing them to my “charming demeanor” rather than acknowledging my hard work and dedication.
This blatant disregard for my professional prowess really upset me, especially with the other male colleagues who smirked every time they passed me. But instead of confronting the issue, I chose to tolerate the disrespect in a misguided attempt to please those around me.
3) The more you give in to disrespectful pressure the less you respect yourself
The more I tried to put up with the disrespect and stupid jokes, the worse I felt about myself. It wasn’t until I stood up for myself that my self-respect grew.
Others began to treat me with more deference, too, and even though I won’t claim the workplace became some harmonious coop, it did get better.
The best part is I genuinely respected myself and felt better and better about my prospects for the future. I walked tall and believed in myself apart from how others saw me or validated me. I didn’t wait to be told I’d done a good job – I knew it.
4) Letting others use you and undervalue you is a big mistake
There came a time at work when my agreeability directly hurt my career, not just my sense of self-worth and self-respect.
A critical project, on which I had invested countless hours and put in huge effort, was claimed by a male colleague as his own during a high-profile presentation. He referred to me as someone who had “assisted,” rather than telling the truth that I’d been the lead.
The shock and frustration I felt in that moment forced me to start changing.
I confronted this toxic desire inside where I felt the need to please and be agreeable to others.
I took a stand about the project and confronted the issue head-on, articulating my concerns and demanding the recognition I deserved from my managing supervisor.
The confrontation was uncomfortable, but it marked a crucial turning point in my professional journey.
The male colleague who’d taken the credit looked sheepish, and the next time I saw him he didn’t make any silly jokes about me or use me as his “assistant.”
5) Your ‘no’ will be respected and valued – but only if you mean it
No longer would I tolerate disrespect or compromise my values for the sake of pleasing others or being on their “good side.”
The job I was at with the male colleague who’d tried to steal my work soon offered me a chance for a slight promotion, but only if I relocated.
I’d heard whisperings about the position and the role was undoubtedly appealing, but I turned it down, knowing that relocating was going to uproot many friendships I’d made and be a net negative for me.
This decision was met with skepticism and disapproval from some quarters, but I remained resolute in my commitment to crafting a life that aligned with my values of still having a personal life.
Respect slowly grew for me, and – even more importantly – my self-respect burgeoned.
6) Being too agreeable hurts your bottom line in a big way
In the years when I’d been focused on making people like me, my salary suffered.
There’s no other way to say it, and it’s true. I saw other men (and women) who were more forthright and demanding get bumps to their salary, but I was afraid to ask.
I didn’t want to seem overly demanding or cause awkwardness with my superiors.
“In 2011, University of Notre Dame researchers found that agreeable employees earned significantly less than disagreeable ones. Specifically, agreeable men earned 18% less than disagreeable men while agreeable women earned 5% less than disagreeable women.”
7) When you’re too kind and chill you become the permanent ‘friend’
In my personal life, my people-pleasing had deleterious effects as well. I was always the “just friend” to men I liked. I was undervalued and my time was not prioritized.
I felt bad about being too demanding and saw it as needy to ask for more from the men I went out with. I tried to play it cool, even portraying myself as a more chill and easygoing person than I was.
I desperately wanted to be liked and approved of, and part of me was always observing and analyzing the reactions of others to my personality, values and words.
This led to me being just a friend so many times I lost count. Trust me, getting friendzoned doesn’t just happen to guys, and it has very little to do with looks…
8) Never justify and explain your dreams to bystanders
I learned early in my life and career not to justify and explain my dreams to those I met along the way.
Getting too in detail about what I hoped to achieve and why led me to get stuck in my head and delayed taking action, and it also led to all sorts of advice, judgments and opinions that didn’t really help me in any way.
Others may have great insights and thoughts about your dreams, but they’re still just that – your dreams! Keep them that way…
9) You don’t have to choose from binary options in your life
I have learned that success need not come at the cost of personal fulfillment, and that a woman’s aspirations are not mutually exclusive from her desire for a family.
By shattering the societal norms that attempt to confine and compartmentalize women’s dreams, I have forged a path that reflects the harmonious integration of both my professional and personal aspirations.
Is it easy? Certainly not.
But is it possible? It is, and it keeps me on my toes in a way that demands my personal best.
10) There’s nothing weak about having a support system and needing help
There’s nothing weak about needing help or having a support system, and that’s another thing I’ve learned about being less agreeable:
I’ve learned to not feel ashamed to ask for help and need things from other people.
I’m only one woman, and I do need help sometimes, especially with my busy schedule and the many hobbies and groups I’m a member of.
Having that support system around me and people who I can call up for emotional support as well as camaraderie and doing things together is a big plus for me.
It’s all part of my larger process of learning to stand up for myself, state my needs and have firm boundaries of what I’m looking for in life.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
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