When will you quit being a people pleaser?

Do you keep everyone happy?

You will never keep everyone happy

As 2018 began, I began to fall back into the trap of being a people pleaser. I was working full time, starting my side business and an active board member on Dubbo Chamber of Commerce. My fiancé and I got married and we started building our first new house in June the same year. I had so many great things in my life and no time to enjoy any of them.

Do you keep everyone happy?
Are you trying to keep everyone happy?

When my wife and I boarded our plane to fly from Australia to Fiji, it dawned on me that perhaps I was trying too hard to make other people happy. Some days I had the energy levels of Superman and on other days I just felt like a clown who was trying to juggle too many eggs.

My morning routines so far consisted of walking, keeping a diary, writing a blog post and getting ready for work. I continued to read articles about why I should make my bed each morning, prepare a specific kind of herbal tea, perform a high intensity workout, plunge into an ice bath (yes, it’s a thing), listen to a podcast, read for 10 minutes, keep a journal, meditate for 10 and cook a high protein breakfast.

Would all of this keep someone happy? Would it make me happy? More to the point, when the f*** would I find time for it all? I was already tired. I wondered if this was how a hamster felt in a wheel. Exhausted, frustrated and going nowhere!

“I do the best I know and the best I can every day. I love and approve of myself as I am, and other people’s opinion or validation of me is neither required nor needed” -Sara Fabian.

Not everyone will be happy

Let’s face it… some people are just shitheads quite negative and you will never keep them happy. Sometimes it’s more than that though. Here are a few reasons it’s impossible to please everyone:

  • You have limited time and energy
  • Other people move the goal posts
  • People expect different things
  • People expect more than you can give

Stop the runaway train

My friend persuaded me to stay on the chamber board in 2018. I felt compelled to say yes to this request. Probably because I had invested 1 year of my time on the board already. Maybe 2018 was the year I would recover some benefit. So much time and energy had gone into my role already. As a people pleaser, my tendency to say yes could be like a runaway train with no brakes.

A few days before our honeymoon, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t performing any of my roles to the best of my ability. My non-essential commitments, aka my runaway trains, were consuming most of my time. Requests were coming in from every direction. Even though I was pushing back, these roles drained attention, time and energy from my essential roles as an employee, part-time business owner, husband and family man.

Who matters most in your life?

I believe it is important to make and keep commitments, to yourself and others. But my commitments to the chamber started like a drop and became a waterfall.

Perhaps I was seen as a people pleaser on the board but I wasn’t keeping the right people happy. I had to make my wife, my family and my paid work a higher priority than what it was.

Consider someone you know who is truly exceptional at what they do? How many roles do they perform at a high level? Chances are, they are better at some things than others. Think about a world class athlete, musician or mathematician. People can be gifted at so many things but without incredible focus and commitment to develop that skill, they will never be the best at what they do.

Unreasonably successful people

Richard Koch, who is an author, entrepreneur and investor, recently wrote a blog post called Saints Ancient and Modern. He is researching a new book, which talks of 19 “unreasonably successful” people. “Unreasonable” because the achieved much more than was ever expected of them and, in some cases, in despite of or because of marked character flaws.

Richard noted that many people who were extraordinary in their chosen field were somewhat duds in their personal life (okay, he didn’t quite put it like that!). Nelson Mandela, Richard points out, was known for being warm and friendly to strangers but very cold with his closest family.

My point is, no one is truly exceptional in every area of life. If you’re human, you will fail at some point. Be selective with what you can do well and eliminate the non essential.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Steve Jobs

Why do we keep saying YES to the wrong things?

I believe that once we have said yes to one request, it becomes more difficult to say no. As it turns out, this is not hogwash. There’s actually some psychological evidence to help explain my half baked theory.

When I was studying marketing, I learned a few things about consumer behaviour. One of the things I learned is that if someone says yes to a minor request, they are more likely to comply with further requests after that. For example, someone who donates $5 to a particular charity is more likely to say yes if the charity requests a follow up donation of $100. I won’t bore you with the detail of the theory but it’s still used as a common technique in sales today.

Rational decisions -not our forte

About 5 years ago, I read an interesting book about the pull of irrational behaviour called “Sway“. Authors Ori and Rom Brafman tell a few great stories to illustrate that people aren’t always rational or logical, as we would like to believe. In fact, more often than not, emotions play a big role in our decisions. I know it’s difficult to believe but as humans, we’re prone to error. We don’t always make decisions rationally or logically.

Perhaps that’s why you chased after the boy or girl you could never have. It might be why you argued a moot point or got in a fist fight to protect yourself or a loved one from a nasty insult. As if it would. Yes, we are emotional creatures and sometimes fools. Sometimes we make decisions with our ‘people pleaser’ hat on -in itself an emotional decision.

Ori and Rom tell one particular story of Captain Jacob Van Zanten, an accomplished pilot with a clean safety record. In fact, he was head of KLM’s safety program and one of the most experienced pilots in the world. He had a solid reputation of being punctual as well. While piloting KLM flight 4805, on a runway in Canary Islands, some diversions were in place causing chaos. It was likely all flights would be grounded, resulting in a chain reaction of delays to other KLM flights and the tarnishing of Jacob’s reputation for being on time. He was also aware that there was not enough local accommodation for his passengers and crew.

Emotional decisions -our default

A series of factors playing on Jacob’s mind, made him determined to take off that day. In his mind, he needed to make it happen before all planes were grounded on the runway. There was chaos at the airport, flight towers were understaffed, a blanket of fog was looming , Jacob’s was being second guessed by his co-pilot and they didn’t get the necessary take off clearance in all the confusion. He didn’t see the 747 parked at the end of the runway until the last minute. He pulled up the nose enough for it to clear parked jet, however, the fuselage on KLM 4805 collided with the parked plane causing a massive explosion. 584 people were killed as a result of the crash, including pilot, crew and all passengers of KLM 4805.

Captain Jacob Van Zanten was over-committed to getting his plane off the ground that day. We all need to be careful about becoming over-committed to a decision, even if we are not commercial pilots or we don’t have lives at stake.

At what point are we over-committed?

Absolutely. In my mind, there are 2 ways you can over-commit.

  1. Committing more attention, time, money or resources to a single role than you have available.
  2. Committing to more roles than you can perform well because you don’t have enough attention, time, money or resources.

Quitting for the short term is a bad idea

Some people say never quit but I disagree. As Seth Godin points out in his book, The Dip, “Quitting for the short term is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea.” In other words, don’t quit something just because things are tough right now. Consider quitting only if the cost of continuing is more than the benefits of sticking it through to completion (or a future point in time).

Have you ever heard of sunk costs? Sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. If you stay committed to something just because you have already lost too much time, money and energy, that’s a bad idea. What’s the most likely outcome of sticking with your commitment? Is the benefit of seeing through your commitment bigger than the cost of continuing? If not, that’s a good reason to stop.

Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea

Make sure you reach for something big. If you get there, it’s likely the benefit will be bigger than what it costs you to get there. Always keep the end in mind wen you’re deciding where to invest your time and energy. Make sure your goal is so exciting that it’s worth everything you’re going to put into it moving forward.

What happens if you’re a people pleaser? You probably have an inclination to say yes to other people’s requests. So, you never decide to take on a role or task based on a logical decision process. You decide because it keeps someone else happy. In doing so, you may help them get what they want but is that truly what you want?

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much” – Jim Rohn.

Stop being a people pleaser

You will never be perfect in other people’s eyes. Stop trying to be a people pleaser. Instead of worrying about what someone else says you should do, decide what your musts are and go after them. Everything else is a distraction, so work on eliminating those distractions.

Think about what you have planned today. This week. Have you taken on too many roles? Are you committing too much attention, time, energy and money to unnecessary roles? Remember, what you decide to quit, may be just as important as what you decide to do.

“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the f*** you were gonna do anyway” -Robert Downey Jr. 

Which roles will you stick at?

Careful you’re not quitting because something is getting difficult. Remember, that’s never a good reason to quit. Keep your goals in mind and even if working towards your number one goal is difficult, stick it out.

Here are the roles you should keep in your life:

  1. Roles that fulfil you;
  2. Which have the greatest future upside potential;
  3. Where you can be truly exceptional.

In summary, keep your eye on the end reward. Play the long game, not the short. Don’t take on too many roles and spread yourself too thin. Say no often to anything that gets in the way of what you want. Focus on being the best you can be, in the few roles that mean most to you. You will never keep everyone happy, as hard as you might try.

Stop trying to be a people pleaser and instead, do what fulfils you with the people who matter most to you.

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