For the longest time, I was the nicest person you could meet.
I was delegated baby-sitting duties before I even turned 10. I was expected to always compromise with my older sister. Boys in college talked about how I was too nice to be true. And when I joined work, my new colleagues chuckled about how I’d get eaten up at work for being so nice.
I loved the compliments. I was proud of being such a nice person. And of course, I thought they were exaggerating when they said I’d get eaten up.
But being nice came with a huge downside. And it took me a long time to understand that.
I always knew that even though I was nice, I didn’t feel good about myself. Something felt off. And I couldn’t put my finger on it.
And then one day when I asked a boss for honest feedback because he was leaving the company, it all came together. He simply said, “You try too hard to please everyone.”
At first, I thought he was crazy and biased. But his feedback stung, and I thought hard about it for the next few days. And suddenly everything made much more sense.
I was a people pleaser. I had been one all my life.
Pleasing my parents, pleasing my friends, pleasing my relatives, pleasing my teachers, pleasing my bosses, pleasing my colleagues, pleasing my partner, pleasing my direct reports, pleasing my kids, pleasing my guests… well, even pleasing strangers next to me on airplanes who were eager to make conversation when all I wanted to do was sleep.
And yet I never realized I was being nice so I could please people. I was being nice, I thought, just because I was a nice person.
But that day, it all made sense.
The tension I was feeling within me – the feeling of something being off – that was my inner self pushing me to stand up for myself. To watch out for myself.
When I smiled and empathized with my direct report when he didn’t show up for a meeting, I could feel that tension. When I smiled and empathized with my partner because he was upset when I asserted my independence, I could feel the tension. And when I smiled and empathized with my child when he was rude to me, I could feel the tension.
That was my inner self urging me to stand up for myself. To not hurt myself just because I didn’t want to hurt others. To respect myself like I respected others.
And here’s the thing. When you don’t respect yourself, others subconsciously stop respecting you too. When you don’t care for your needs, others stop caring for your needs too. It impacts your interactions with others, and it shapes your relationships.
But when you start standing up for yourself and doing what you think is right, it’s life changing. You feel more powerful and confident. You have a healthy self-esteem. And you build relationships that are healthier and more equal.
I often wonder how decades of my life went by without me recognizing something as fundamental as my people pleasing nature.
But now I feel like a different person. I’m still nice. But I’m nice on my terms. I’m respectful. I’m considerate. But I do what I think is the right thing to do. Not what pleases others.
- If someone’s mansplaining me, I speak up and tell them my point of view rather than nod attentively.
- If a direct report is underperforming, I have an honest discussion with them rather than pick up the slack myself.
- If my partner is being disrespectful, I let him know that it’s unacceptable rather than empathize that he was stressed out.
And I treat myself with as much respect as I treat others.
It didn’t happen overnight. These behaviors are so deep-rooted that it takes time and effort to change. But thanks to the recent developments in behavioral science, it’s possible to change. I, and hundreds of other women we’ve trained at Rekindle, are proof of that.
Do what you think is the right thing to do. And get the respect you deserve. It’s about time.
Wish you the very best!
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