How to Stop Living for Others’ Approval

by Tammy Strobel on July 2, 2010

Graduation 2010

The overwhelming desire to please others can result in doing stupid work and make our lives more complex, rather than simple. At it’s core the need-to-please disease is about living for others’ approval.

So what is the need-to-please disease? Let’s look at a few common traits:

  • Not being honest with others about who we really are
  • Constantly worrying about what other people think
  • Being fearful of saying no
  • Saying yes to every request that comes your way
  • Trying to do everything by yourself
  • Feeling bad because you don’t know the answer to a problem
  • Being nice to the point of self harm.

So the question is:

If you are living for others’ approval, how can you focus on doing good work, be an amazing friend, spouse, or community member?

Let me give you an example…

I want to please my clients and do a rock star job on writing and web design projects. In theory this isn’t a bad thing. Providing kick ass services should be part of every business model.

However, a few weeks ago I spent an incredible amount of time on a project; only to fall flat on my face. Despite many hours of trouble shooting and talking with colleagues, I couldn’t figure out the answer to a specific web design problem. To make a long story short, I had to tell my client I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t able to provide the level of service I would have liked.

I also realized that I’d gotten caught in the people-pleasing trap. I spent over 20 hours on a project that should have taken 8. I think it’s essential to give 110% on any project. However, I think there is a breaking point; a time when you have to admit to yourself and your client, friend, or family member, that you don’t have the answer they are looking for.

Let’s talk about a few solutions to this tricky problem…

1. Learn to say “no”.

Make a list of the number of times you say “yes” during the week. If you suffer from the need-to-please disease the number of times you say yes, in one week, might be shocking.

Learning to say”no” is hard. I’ve gotten better at saying no over the last few months. RowdyKittens is continuing to grow, which is so exciting! In the last month, my subscriber number went up to 2,500. My email inbox has also been filled with requests to work on projects, answer specific questions, etc.

All of that is awesome and I’m grateful for the support. But I can’t say “yes” to everything.

2. Being “nice” can be a downfall.

I’m not advocating that you turn into a mean, evil, person. However, being nice can be a downfall. If your aim is to please everyone, you will continue to say “yes” to projects and engagements you aren’t excited about.

Rather than being “nice”, I think you should aim for being assertive and honest. Tell your colleagues and loved ones how you really feel. Don’t say “yes” because you want someone to like you; say yes because you are thrilled about working on a project or going to an event.

3. Know your limits.

Set clear boundaries and expectations about what you can and can’t do in your personal and professional life. In our hurried world, it’s easy to lose focus and tax our emotional and physical limits. Working too much, loosing sleep, and snapping at loved ones are a few examples of things that happen when we push ourselves past our limits.

What are your emotional and physical limits?

4. Pay attention to how you parcel out your time.

Focusing on one task at a time has been my mantra for the last few months. When your working on a project either for personal or professional gain, focus. For instance, when I work on projects for clients I set a timer and focus solely on that project. Time is a valuable commodity. So if a project takes longer than expected, I start billing by the hour. (Make sure you specify this in a contract.)

Be sure to read: How to Reduce Your Email Checking to Once a Day.

5. Ask for help.

If you don’t know the answer to a specific question, ask for help. It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.

Living for others’ approval can do more harm than good. For instance, I’ve spent hours worrying about whether or not someone “liked” me; which translated into a lot of lost time and emotional stress.

You don’t have to seek others’ approval to do good work, be a good friend, spouse, or community member. So use the tips above to keep yourself centered.

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