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.
The three things that helped me to realise this are: teaching, writing, and Twitter. Yes. Twitter. That renowned hell site of social media.
One of the most important things you learn as a teacher is that your style of teaching is not going to suit every learner. With 33 teenagers in each class, and five classes a day, it’s simply not possible to be as differentiated in teaching approach as you want to be. You can’t be all things to all people all of the time. The most we can do is try our hardest to be effective in what we do, and keep trying new ways of communicating the learning to reach a range of kids. Sometimes, it comes down to figuring out who needs the most help, what kind they need, and giving everyone that same kind of approach. Those who are fine anyway deal with it, and those who are most in need are lifted.
But here is the key thing – you don’t have to be the favourite, or even exciting and fun, to be an effective teacher.
Do I want to be everyone’s favourite teacher? Of course! Am I many kids’ fave? Yes. Do I need to be? No.
My job is to teach. And although I agree with Rita Pierson’s declaration that ‘kids don’t learn from people they don’t like,’ there’s a big difference between being liked for being fair and encouraging and good at your job, and being the favourite. As Pierson says, it’s more about being a kid’s champion than anything else. And you can do that without them loving the boring activity you made.
Not everyone is going to love every minute in your classroom or of the content you teach. And that is okay.
We all teach differently because we are all different people. Teaching is very bound to your own personality and style. Not every personality is the best for every student. And because teaching is founded on relationships, this can sometimes feel overwhelming. How do I be everything to all people?
The art we create through writing or drawing or music does not please or engage everyone.
No, it really is.
But for someone like me who desperately wants everyone to LOVE AND ADMIRE ME GODDAMMIT, it has been hard to completely accept.
What has made it easier to be at peace with, for me, is critique. Critique by beta readers and critique partners, and critique by contest judges.
The first time someone critiques your precious beautiful piece of art, it can feel like a critique of YOU. We put so much of ourselves into our art that it can be hard to separate the two.
But (good) critique is never personal. It’s about making your vision even MORE your vision. Shaping the sketch into the masterpiece. And the more you feel centred in that vision, the easier the critique is to take.
Knowing your own voice as a writer is so important. Leaning into those stylistic quirks that distinguish you from others, knowing when to discard feedback that would change the nature of your story to someone else’s. Those are essential.
But also essential is knowing, and accepting, that not everyone is your audience. You won’t please all the readers all of the time.
I’ve had feedback from contest judges on the same pages that have varied ASTONISHINGLY. As in, one judge listed about 8 things in detail they thought I should change, and another said ‘seamlessly flawless. I wouldn’t change a thing.’ I’ve had rejections from agents saying they couldn’t connect with a morally grey character, and feedback from other agents saying they love that same character, but aren’t connecting with the concept. My debut is beginning to get a few reviews from advance readers and what makes it easier to handle is the fact I’ve completely internalised the fact that not everyone will love it. And that’s okay, because some other people will.
All I can do is be myself, tell my own stories, as hard as I can.
Likewise our enjoyment of art and media does not have to be shared by everyone. And we are allowed to have dissenting opinions.
Which leads me to….
Prior to joining Twitter, I’d never had a public online presence. I guarded my privacy and only had friends and family on my Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, I found I could curate my social media presence and experience. Connecting with and interacting with random strangers taught me a few things.
Listening is a good thing to do. Just listen. So often, we feel an urge to get involved in the ‘discourse’. It isn’t necessary and sometimes it just ends with us feeling riled up or upset. We don’t have to agree with or even understand everyone’s opinions. They don’t have to agree with ours. But it helps to listen and read and reflect.
Don’t track the follower numbers, just make friends and genuine connections. If you focus on building a platform over simply interacting and doing what you want, I believe that not only will you not have as much fun, but you won’t be as successful as you hope. People are drawn to authenticity. They don’t want to feel like they are just a means to an end.
I see a lot of writers worrying that they will lose followers if they aren’t bland and never voice opposing opinions. I say that it’s your page, your account, your views, and your values. If your follower count goes down because you made it clear you hold no space for racism or transphobia (for eg) then that’s a good thing.
You don’t owe anyone on social media your time or attention. I’m not talking about friends here (I have many true friendships with people I met on Twitter). I’m talking about acquaintances or randoms. We are brought up to be polite and considerate. And for those of us with people pleasing tendencies, it’s hard to feel like you can just ignore or not engage with people who are talking to us. But the thing is, social media is not the same as real life. They aren’t co-workers you have to nurture a relationship with so that daily life is not awful. They are, essentially, strangers. And you don’t have to be anyone’s mentor, therapist, life coach, bff, admirer–unless you want to.
Ultimately this comes down to being confident in yourself and looking after your boundaries.
Why is this important?
Feeling like you have to please everyone can leave you feeling overwhelmed and wrung out. It can make you feel like a failure, or that you have let people down.
When you truly accept that you CAN’T please everyone, but also that you don’t have to, it is very liberating.
People love you and admire your work because of who you already are. You don’t need to be anything other than yourself.
Trying to twist yourself into someone else’s expectations isn’t necessary and in the end just leaves you feeling discontent.
Be your own wonderful self. Do what you can to make people happy (because that’s a great thing to try to do). Don’t be afraid of holding your own opinions. Don’t feel bad for having boundaries. And accept the fact that just because you or your art are not some people’s fave, doesn’t make you any less wondrous or worthy.