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The Disease To Please

The Disease To Please
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Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, I’m not a nurse. And yet, even without a nursing or medical degree, I’m still able to self-diagnosis with stellar results. I’ve also been known to make a correct diagnosis or two after hearing about family and friends’ medical ailments. Who knew?

After a thorough evaluation recently of my own troubling symptoms, I realized that I suffered from a disease. A disease to please that is. But fortunately, I have found a cure.

Can you do me a favor?

When I was younger and someone asked for a favor, I always replied with a resounding “yes” without evaluating the consequences. Why? Because I was a people pleaser and had a disease to please. I was more concerned with people liking me than I was with the outcome of the favor that was requested of me.

Does this sound like you? Or were you ‘immune’ to this type of behavior?

I’m not sure how much of this was genetic (nature vs nurture) or whether being a middle child had also played a role. As a middle child—known to be peacemakers and avoid conflict— I  always wanted to just ‘make nice’ no matter what.  I realized that this behavior continued through most of my childhood and young adult life. I wanted to please everyone: my parents, my teachers, my friends.

I was never comfortable saying no.

Just another manic Monday

In later years, this disease to please spilled into my professional life as well. A few years ago, I became a consultant (which is a fancy word for freelancer) in pharmaceutical advertising. In this role, I was the last checkpoint for promotional and educational materials which were sent to the clients for review. This was not a 9 to 5 industry.

I ended up burning the midnight oil on most nights, as I never set boundaries or said no to the late nights (or weekend work) that was asked of me. It was part of my work ethic (and the industry culture) and of course the fantastic pay was an incentive too.

Yet, I often saw freelancers leaving at 6PM every night. What were they doing differently?

After many years, the surmounting stress, sleepless nights, crazy hours and weekend work had taken their toll on me. The midnight oil had finally burned out and so did I. Could I have avoided this burnout had I set more definitive boundaries like my former colleagues did?  I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

Girls just want to have fun

This disease to please spread into my social life too. I hated missing out on any fun and wanted to fancy myself as someone who was spontaneous, so I never said no to last minute invites (even if I didn’t really feeling like going). I wanted to be the ‘go with the flow’ girl, never making waves. Yet secretly, I sometimes felt like I was floating down the stream with no paddle, having no control of my destiny (or destination).

Why didn’t I just say no from the get-go instead of regretting my choices later?

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

Back at the home front, often times friends and family would visit NYC and want to crash at my apartment. No problem” I’d say.  After all, these were good friends and family – how could I say no to them (especially knowing the exorbitant costs of hotels here)?

News flash: Most New Yorkers don’t live in apartments the size of those shown on “Friends” or “Sex in the City”.

But guess what? The older (and wiser) I became, the more I realized that I was not responsible for ‘housing’ family and friends whenever they came to NYC.  In your 30s, it’s fun. In your 50s, not so much! Especially when the average size of a NYC apartment is under 500 square feet!

Just Say No

In spite of the Nancy Reagan drug campaign that failed miserably, I fortunately learned the beauty of saying no in later years. The best advice someone once gave me was to “ just say no” with no big explanation or to simply use the reply “unfortunately, that won’t work for me”. And of course the “I’ll think about it and get back to you” also works wonders.

I remember (albeit in my later years) when I finally ‘saw the light’. It was uncanny how much more power I felt from being back in control. And how liberating it was to feel like I didn’t need to run all over creation meeting other people’s expectations or explaining my choices to them. It was as if the clouds parted and I finally had clarity.

If only I had learned to say no and had set better boundaries when I was younger. I guess with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes epiphanies. It’s never too late to learn to change your behavior for the better. And it’s never too late to respond with a resounding “no thank you” when presented with invitations or inconvenient requests.

Remember, you only have to please yourself.

Do you say “yes” when you really want to say “no” and then regret that decision? Or are you a reformed people pleaser like I am who secretly wishes that she had gotten on the ‘no bandwagon’ earlier? We love your stories and anecdotes so please ‘do us a favor’ and share them with us. And we promise, no strings attached.

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