Don’t get me wrong, I love to people please. Not out of a desire for approval, at least not anymore. I just love making people happy. But there’s a fine line between enjoying making people happier and beating yourself up because you can’t please everyone.
My journey to realising I don’t have to please everyone began years ago, back when my marriage first started cracking. I was talking with one of our school counsellors and out of the blue she asked me: “Where does this need to please everyone come from?”
Reader, I Was Shook.
Did I have a need to please everyone?
Where had it come from?
It took me ages to work it out. Closest I can make it is the lesson I learned first as an 8 year old and then again as a young adult dating – it doesn’t matter how nice and kind and pleasing you are, people will still leave you if they think you aren’t ‘good enough’.
That’s clearly an oversimplification of the complex dynamics of playground friendships and dating. But, on reflection, I realised it was an internalised certainty. If I don’t make everyone happy and twist myself into all sorts of compromises and take the blame for their negativity (basically if I fail to please them) they might leave me. They might hate me. Or just think I’m ordinary and boring (I’d prefer antagonism to be honest).
It has taken me a Long Long Time to be fine with the fact that not only will I not please all the people all of the time, but that I can’t. None of us can.
When I first stood sideline at a netball game I had no idea that I’d end up learning so much about how to approach life and writing.
The last two years I’ve had the chance to go on tournament with my school’s premier netball team as a chaperone/teacher in charge. I’m not a coach, I’ve never even played 😬 I’m the van driver and attendant and school rep and cheerleader.
I’ve learned so much watching the girls and listening to the amazing coach, Rachel Rasmussen. These lessons are life lessons, but being me I connect them most with writing. I’ve listed 12 of them below so we can all benefit from the wisdom gleaned on the sidelines.
When your head gets all messy that’s when you need to connect with someone.
We’ve all had moments when our own minds become our worst enemy. Confusion and self-doubt muddle our thinking and ability to perform well. Those are the moments when you need to make a connection with a buddy–let them set you straight or support you out of the mess. I do this all the time with my writing. When things are spiralling and I can’t see the trees for the self-doubt, I don’t so much slide as crash into my writing friends’ DMs and let them help me.
When the girls felt like they were flat in their play, the coach told them to buddy up with someone who would become their hype partner. We know what a difference it makes when you have someone in your corner telling you that you’re amazing and you got this.
Hear me out. I know no-one enjoys a toddler tantrum, but as I drove past a park the other day I saw a mum trying to lift her toddler off the ground. Said toddler clearly didn’t want to leave the park and was embracing gravity for all they were worth.
It struck me all at once how this little scene was in fact a lesson for how to deal with all sorts of people, tantruming or not. I mentioned it to my teen who immediately understood what I meant and why I thought it related to him, and his peers.
Parents lift toddlers all the time. They’re heavy, but moveable. Mostly because they’re all ‘up! up!’, and hold themselves up.
Toddlers who refuse to be lifted are a different story. It’s like they’ve sucked in gravity and it’s holding them bound to the earth. When you finally heave them up, you might get a kick in the stomach for your pains and a screech in your eardrum.
We can try and lift people, and help them, and support them, but sometimes they aren’t ready. Sometimes they’re lying on the ground refusing to get up. Sometimes they’re frightened to get up. They push us away, shout, cover their eyes.
Emotions are tricksy beasts. Especially the negative ones. They build up until they’re a roiling mess of sobs and anger and UGH lying just under a thin film of ice. At any moment the control can snap, the ice shatter, and everything just cascades out.
Negative emotions are not inherently bad. Sadness can have its place, as can concern and worry. It’s when they layer one on top of each other so you can’t breathe, or when they appear hand in hand with negative self-talk, that the problem starts.
Suggested ways to deal with emotional tsunamis
These are ideas that work for me, or at least can help a little.
One: Write it Out
Maybe because I’m naturally happy writing, but I’ve always written out my emotions. In letters that I don’t send (and some that I do), in diaries, in endless lists and mind maps and jotted notes in planners and bits of refill.
Research shows that writing out your problems and emotions can be just as, if not often more, effective than talking it out. This article explains it well, and this one gives some advice on how to do it. Writing your feelings helps you to structure your thoughts – we naturally think in paragraphs or bullet points when writing. We edit ideas and words and definitions. This earlier post of mine shows the process I often go through. Writing can help me parse my thoughts and reframe my catastrophising.