Most people I have met, want to do good in the world. They want to make a difference. They want to help people.
However, for some people, helping people gets confused with people-pleasing. And this is a significant, problematic sticking point for them. Focusing so much on other’s needs and wants, interferes with our ability to have our own.
I can relate to this, as I used to be a people-pleaser. And then I had to make a critical choice for my life.
When I was in college and deciding what to do with my life and career, I knew I wanted to help people. I found my way to psychology and moved forward with my ambition to go to a PhD program.
Up until this point, my life and my goals didn’t conflict with anyone else’s. In fact, my parents couldn’t have been prouder of the choices I made. But toward the end of my undergraduate education, I fell in love and got married.
My husband got accepted to a law school in the Bay Area. We lived in the Bay Area for two years when I got accepted to a PhD program in Utah. For the first time, my needs and goals directly clashed with someone close to me; the closest and most important person to me: my husband.
This was a very messy time for us. My husband supported my dreams but hadn’t anticipated that he would have to make significant sacrifices of his own to support me. I also tried my best to support his dreams and not have mine disrupt his progress.
Our decision to move to Utah, where I could start my PhD program and my husband could finish law school as a visiting student, caused some upheaval in our immediate support system. There were people who did NOT approve of our choice and actively worked to dissuade us from our path. There were people who called me selfish and manipulative because I was moving forward with my dream and it required my husband to sacrifice and shift his own goals.
I hated that part of our history. I hated feeling misunderstood by close family members. But I also felt so guilty that my needs didn’t fit seamlessly into the vision my husband had for his own graduate school and career. It wasn’t easy to own my truth and continue to move forward. It would’ve been easier to change my goals or wait longer for my dreams to be realized.
Now, I look back on those years as incredibly formative. Having needs, expressing them, and moving forward with them, was one of the most important lessons I needed to learn for myself. I learned to be an advocate for myself. I learned to have confidence in myself and my dreams. I needed to ask my husband to accommodate and sacrifice on behalf of my dreams. I learned that if I wanted to help people in the ways I felt called to, I needed to own my truth!
That time was was also so formative for our marriage. We learned how to be true teammates and partners. We learned that for our relationship to work, we both needed to sacrifice. And both of us needed to feel supported with our dreams and ambitions.
I share this story because I want to emphasize some important points. First, when we are trapped in people-pleasing mode, we are not serving ourselves. When we sacrifice, swallow, or dismiss our own needs and dreams (aka truth) we stifle our growth. It may feel easier to do this. It doesn’t ruffle feathers or step on toes. But when we aren’t living our truth, we are also not helping others to our full capacity! The world needs you to develop your unique gifts and use them! The world needs you to show up!
Secondly, when we are stuck in people-pleasing mode, we also stifle the growth of our relationships. In relationships, BOTH parties have needs. It’s so important to step into your needs! If you value your relationship, you will value the growth your relationship deserves. This can be tricky since relationships involve more than just you. Your needs may not be convenient for others. That might be your biggest growth curve: giving yourself permission to frustrate, inconvenience, even disappoint people in service of living your truth. But I want you to understand that having needs within a relationship, invites your partner to become more than they currently are. It invites them to learn more fully how to love and support you. It also invites stepping into the messy territory of sacrifice, support, and balance.
Obviously, I’m not advocating for reckless abandon in service of living our truths. I’m actually not really worried about that for anyone who would be reading this, as I feel my audience struggles more significantly with people-pleasing and living too small.
I am advocating for you to show up in your life in the ways you need to! I’m advocating for you to own your needs and truth. Value yourself and value your relationships! If you are to live fully, thrive, and offer the world the gifts that are uniquely yours to offer, you will need to learn to unapologetically own and live your truth! The cost of not living your truth is too high. The cost is YOU.