Episode #5 - People Pleasing and Letting Go of What Other’s Think
Hey Rebels! How are you doing? Can you believe we're in December? We are in the home stretch of 2021. I don't know about you, but this year has felt like one of the longest years of my life. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, I got A LOT accomplished this year. I mean a crazy lot. What about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this year has been for you.
Also, if you've been listening and loving this podcast, I would sooo love it if you would share it with just one friend, one colleague who you think would get a lot out of it. I mean, many of us struggle with the same things, and there's so much growth that can come from this info, so share it with someone else who could use it too. And they don't have to be in the midst of a career pivot, change or transition to benefit from the info shared here.
One of the reasons I've been so productive this year is because I've put myself out there more this year than in years before. Or at least that's what it feels like to me. And one of the things that happen when you "put yourself out there" is that you open yourself up for other people's criticism and opinions. In other words, you start developing fans and haters.
When you think about it, it's a very vulnerable place to be. Brene' Brown talks about this in her work on vulnerability. She defines vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." And that, "It's having the courage to show up when you can't control the outcome."
"Putting yourself out there" is definitely an act of vulnerability, and it's one of the things we talk a lot about in the Career Rebel Academy. The second phase of our work together is called "amplify," and it's about positioning yourself and your brand as an authority in your field. But it can be challenging for some of my clients because it means opening themselves up to other people's criticism and opinions—something I experienced just last week.
I love to provide insights, free content, and other materials on social media. Last week, I dropped a link to a free checklist with some "back to basics" on getting your finances together and not living paycheck-to-paycheck. Since my background isn't in finance, all I can provide on the topic are some practices that helped me go from employee to entrepreneur.
A woman I was connected with, but do not know personally, decided to share my post and included a lengthy commentary about it. She started by saying how she respected me and what I share on social media but went on to talk about how basic the post was, that she was shocked that I was dumbing myself down, and that, as a coach, I should know better. Now, she went on to say that she's not that kind of coach, and you'll never see her post any basic checklists or fail to have real conversations online, as apparently, I was doing with my post.
Now, of course, I had some thoughts about her post. My first thought was how could she do this to me, how rude, why is she trying to belittle me, why is she trying to get attention for herself at my expense, etc., which made me feel angry and hurt. So I started thinking about getting my friends to vouch for me, tell her she was wrong, and defend me against her scandalous accusations.
But then I thought that's probably what she wanted, maybe she sees me as either a successful coach, a threat to her and her business, or both, and she saw this as an opportunity to get some attention by trying to dress me down to build herself up. The truth is I don't know what her thoughts or motivations were, but that's the thing about "putting yourself out there," and as Brene' said, "It's having the courage to show up when you can't control the outcome."
And that's the challenge. Of course, we want to control what others think, feel or do, but the truth is we can't control how others think or feel any more than they can control how we think and feel. So we can only be vulnerable and put ourselves out there, confident in ourselves and our reason for doing so.
Now, I could have responded and gone OFF on her and her post (and it definitely crossed my mind), and early in my career, that's exactly what I would have done. I would have been consumed with her comment, wondering if others felt the same way and just hadn't said so yet. I would have started to second guess myself, my judgment, my knowledge, and may have even secretly agreed with her and had her comments in my mind every time I made a post in the future to try and win her approval. Or I may have just stopped showing up as much.
Isn't that crazy? It sounds crazy as I say it out loud, but if I'm being honest, that's how I may have reacted. Thank God for the mindset work I've done over the years because I was able to pull myself together rather quickly by simply asking, "why do you care what she thinks?" and "why do you feel a need to disprove or invalidate what she thinks?" Ultimately, I chose to ignore her, block her, and allow her and her opinions to remain in obscurity where they belonged.
It was a process, and that's what I want to talk about today, people-pleasing and how to let go and not give two f's about what other people think.
As a society, we spend a lot of our time worrying and wondering what people will do and think about us. So much so that we alter our choices and the way we show up and act in the world to get others' approval, or at least to avoid criticism or ridicule. Think about it, how much time have you spent thinking, "What will they think of me if I make this decision, or wear that outfit, or say yes to this opportunity or no to another? How much time do you spend worrying about saying or writing the right thing, so much so that you decide not to say or write anything at all?" We can potentially twist ourselves into a proverbial knot as we place greater value on others' opinions over our own.
That's what happened with my post. I put myself out there, and that woman had a thought about it, and she chose to criticize me for it. But I have a choice too. I can spend time worrying about that one outlier, stop showing up or spend my time trying to please an audience of one OR, I can focus on the people who liked my post and positively commented or even thanked me for the info.
I mean, rather than being our true selves and connecting with the people who resonate with and support us, we spend more time worrying about the opinions of our potential haters, people who are the least sympathetic to us, don't know us very well, or frankly don't care about us. So we give our time, space, and energy to people who don't really matter.
I see this in my clients who say, "I don't want to brag about my accomplishments because I don't want to be seen as arrogant," but the only people who may think they're being arrogant are the ones who don't know them well, or are jealous or frankly just haters? The people who love and support you will celebrate with you.
So why do we do it?
I believe there are three reasons:
1. We're pack animals by nature, so we're designed to want to be accepted by others, to be included in the tribe, the village, and therefore less likely to speak out and go against the grain;
2. We take critiques or criticism personally and believe it says something about who we are, and therefore we want to avoid them at all cost; and
3. As women, we're conditioned to prioritize others' feelings over our own.
People-pleasing is about what we THINK other people want from us and our consistent prioritizing that thought over our own wants and needs.
For example, you're in a meeting, and some bring up a suggestion that you know won't work and will ultimately cause you more work, but you THINK you may come across as negative or not a team player, so you don't say anything. You've just prioritized what you THINK people want from you, which is to say quiet, over your need to do more work.
In essence, we project our own thoughts of doubt, fear, inadequacy, or anxiety onto others and then respond to that projection through our actions. It's like playing tennis by yourself, running from one side of the net to the other, hitting a ball that we put into play.
This can often keep us trapped in a cycle of mediocrity and the status quo, keeping us from going after and attaining what we want. And yes, there is a risk.
A social psychologist out of USC found that others will tend to quash creative suggestions and even penalize those who raise them because novelty makes us uncomfortable because it introduces uncertainty. And our brains don't like uncertainty.
But vulnerability, by its very nature, is about "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure," and to get what we want in our lives and careers, we have to learn how to put ourselves out there.
However, as women, we've been conditioned to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of everyone else. We often see our own desires are selfish. We're to make other people comfortable and happy and undervalue your own experience and thoughts. To go along to get along, not make waves, not stand out, and not be different.
We're taught to edit ourselves and value others' opinions over our own. Women at midlife, in particular, have been socially conditioned not to object to or make men feel uncomfortable; after all, if you're too bright, you may not get a husband, something I heard my mother and aunts tell me.
Women at midlife are taught to "be seen and not heard," we were socialized into silence, and what often happens with oppression is that we internalize it and start perpetuating it upon each other.
I believe that woman who commented on my social media post was trying to do that to me, to silence me.
And what's so insidious about it is that the socialization women have received around people-pleasing is so deeply ingrained that you don't know you're doing it most of the time. So when we start to feel an uneasiness or sense of discomfort or awkwardness, we will change course, acquiesce what we want, or go along with what's going on rather than inserting our own will.
I've worked with women in jobs, careers, and professions they do not love and desire to leave. Still, because of either the fear of what others would say if they left or the disapproval of a parent who suggested the career in the first place, they struggle and stay rather than prioritize what they want. In fact, some women won't even explore the idea of doing something new or different because the discomfort and anxiety they would feel, disappointing others, overrides their own desire to have the career and live a life they want.
This also shows up in going along with that project at work, not speaking up in meetings, going to events we don't like, laughing at rude or insensitive comments, etc.
So what's the way out?
Awareness is always the first step. Start paying attention to how much you're prioritizing others' preferences and priorities over your own and the self-doubting, uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking thoughts you're having about what will happen if you put yourself first.
Next, ask yourself the question I had to ask about that women's comment on my post, "Why do YOU care what they think?" And then notice what comes up for you? What do you believe is true about yourself and why? Pay attention to your thoughts.
At the foundation of all of this is a collection of thoughts you're having that is causing your feelings and motivating your actions. So when it comes to people-pleasing, there are a variety of thoughts you may have that are bringing up fear, worry, discomfort and anxiety, and to AVOID those feelings, your brain says prioritize someone else thoughts over your own because by making them feel better, you'll, in turn, feel better.
But the truth is you can't control others' feelings or thought no matter what you do. So while you're taking a chance to please them possibly, you're 100% guaranteed you will not satisfy yourself.
I mean, how many times have you tried to please someone, and it just didn't work? They were still salty, disapproving, or unsatisfied. It's because you can't please others; only their OWN thoughts about a situation or circumstance can please them.
Going back to my earlier example, I could have tried to do a million different things to try and "please" my critic, twisted myself in a knot with fear and anxiety. But would any of it matter? NO, because I can't control her thoughts, feelings, or actions. ONLY my own.
And since only OUR own thoughts and feelings can ultimately please us, why should others' desires and preferences take precedent over yours? So, by asking and answering the question, "do you care what she thinks?" with a resounding NO, I was free to continue own and live my best life.
You, too, are entitled to put yourself first, and it doesn't mean you're selfish, arrogant, inconsiderate, or rude. On the contrary, you can absolutely prioritize yourself without questioning your character or morality.
After all, it's how you choose to think about it. It's not easy, and it will take some work; let me be clear about that. It's human nature to be concerned with others' opinions. Our primitive brains don't want to do anything that may get us kicked out of the tribe or end up isolated and alone. Evolutionary biology has trained your brain to search for danger and to worry about rejection constantly.
But just remember, your thought patterns cause your feelings and ultimately your behavior and the actions you take.
This also comes up with my clients when I talk to them about personal branding. A few of my clients have asked me, "if I shouldn't care about what other people think, why should I worry about developing a powerful brand?" A fair and valid question. But what they're wondering is, "why am I trying to convince people that I'm XYZ?”
Now, we'll talk about branding in future podcast episodes, but I want to address this here quickly because it may be a question you've had yourself. Branding is about putting your authentic self out in the world, your unique promise of value. It's not about trying to convince others to like you or to present some version of you to the world because, as we've discussed, everyone is NOT going to have the same opinion or thought, and you can't convince people to have a particular thought or opinion about you.
Some people may love your brand and what you put out there, while others will not. But the more you try to create a brand or put yourself out there for the purpose of "convincing" or "pleasing others," the more you become desperate for outside validation and the potential to become addicted to that external validation. Instead, be vulnerable, present yourself authentically, release yourself to the world, saying here I am and this is me regardless of what you hope or want them to think about it.
The more you do this, the more you'll reinforce the belief that others' opinions about you DO NOT matter more than your own.
As I said, this work isn't easy, and we can all use a little support, and that's why I created the Career Rebel Academy and my latest membership program called The Career Rebel Incubator. Learning how to value yourself and your own opinions over others is the core work we do in the program, and I'd love to teach you how. When you join, you'll immediately get the Rebel Mind Self-Coaching Model, which will help you learn how to manage your thoughts and prioritize yourself. You can check it out at www.carolparkerwalsh.com/theincubator.
Alright, Rebels, that's what I have for you today!
Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you next week. Until next time have an amazingly rebellious week.