I was thirty-six years old before I could identify my own favorite color, or say with conviction that I hate ABBA.
Like a lot of people, I grew up with a wet finger in the air, testing the direction of the wind, ready to trim my sails, and change course at a moment’s notice. I didn’t waste much time becoming attached to my opinions; if they caused conflict, I cut them loose and headed for safer waters. I was born and bred a people pleaser. Being liked was Safety Protocol Number One.
In some ways, this was an excellent preparation for life. I’m incredibly good at sensing nuance in conversation or body language; great at adapting my own behavior for maximum good will. I don’t make rash decisions, or jump to conclusions, instead, I analyze all possible perspectives – especially those that seem irrational. I’m rarely surprised by a response, or unprepared for a reaction. I’ve nearly perfected the art of personality calibration.
In other ways, however, this driving need to be approved of has stifled, stymied, and sabotaged me, a million times over. Fear of disapproval has hounded me for the entirety of my life, backing me into some very dark and quiet corners.
But friends, I have been to the mountain top. I’ve seen what’s on the other side, and I’m here to report that it is NOT. THAT. BAD.
It turns out that the world does not end if you do something that other people don’t like. No hovercraft appears to cart you away to a remote and desolate island. No men in black suits knock upon your door, armed with a red letter “A” for “Asshole” that will follow and ostracize you for the rest of your natural life. In fact, from the outside, nothing at all noteworthy happens. I realize that this is not news for many of you, but for me, it was the discovery of penicillin.
How did I find out?
Well, I wrote a post last week about my husband being fired. (You can find that post here) It was angry. It was unflattering. It had a lot of bad words. It was also true. I knew at the outset that some people would be uncomfortable, some people would be offended, some people would be disappointed and down right pissed off. This is NOT an ideal situation for a person like me. So why did I write it?
Because it was real. And real is kinda what I’m going for. No matter what Forbes thinks, this is not a cooking blog.
As I analyzed my requirements for a post (Is it true? Is it interesting? Does it banish shame and foster connection?) I realized that I had requirements. That somewhere along the line, I had decided what was important to ME, and that, in the act of deciding, I had made myself an authority figure in my own life. Hello, personal revolution.
The response was instantaneous. Within minutes I received text messages, Facebook messages, emails and comments – mostly positive, a few expressing dismay that I’d share such raw feelings with the world at large.
I’ve got to be honest: the negative reactions hit me harder. Like any true people pleaser, I have a sliding scale for public reaction. Basically, it works like this: Positive Affirmation = 1 point, Criticism = 100 points. According to the rules of that game, there was no way I could win. No matter how many other people stood in support of my righteous potty-mouthed rage, they could never outweigh the few that did not. The system was rigged, and at some point, it occurred to me that I was the one who had rigged it. Not only was I weighing some votes more heavily than others, I was completely eliminating the one vote that should carry the most weight: Mine. After all, I’m the one who has to live with the consequences of what I do or do not say, how I do or do not behave.
So, I sat myself down and had an old-fashioned “Come to Jesus.”
I asked Myself if I had the right to say what I’d said.
Myself said, “Yes.”
I asked Myself if there was any legitimacy to other people’s objections.
Myself said, “Yes.”
I asked Myself if I stood behind my decision anyway.
Myself said, “Absolutely.”
So, I awarded Myself 1,000,000 points, declared a victory, and poured Myself a glass of wine.
I care about what people think of me, I do. My feelings are still easily hurt. I still want ALL of the people to be happy with me, ALL of the time. But suddenly, it has occurred to me that I AM ONE OF THE PEOPLE.Hey, people pleasers out there: YOU ARE ONE OF THE PEOPLE!!! Click To Tweet
Try it. You just might like it.
I wish all of you calm waters. I wish you all unanimous votes, and lives free of dissent. But I also wish you the courage of your convictions. So that, just in case Mom was right, and there is no pleasing all the people all the time, you can still stand at your back door at twilight, point at the sky and say, “That. There. The deep blue of the sky, just before the inky trees dissolve into darkness. That is the best color in the world,” and know that it is. That your vote counts just as much as anybody’s.