This past week a couple of things happened at work which got me thinking about something I need to change. I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. Ever since I can remember, I would do things to ensure that people would like me. I mean beyond the normal, “let me do something nice for this person because I want to”. I basically just listened and paid attention to what other people wanted from me and I did my best to fulfill that. Things like being as obedient as possible at school, always handing in my homework on time and doing whatever was asked of me. When friends asked something of me, I would do it, even if it meant that I had to put aside something else I would rather be doing.
The same behavior progressed throughout my adult life. At work, I generally did whatever was asked of me. I guess subconsciously I just thought that one day it would pay off, and somehow I would end up in a better position, making more money and maybe even being someone else’s boss. But the reality is, I began developing resentful feelings when things didn’t pay off. At one particular job, which I downright hated, I was physically incapable of getting there on time. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was classic passive-aggressive behavior. I was too timid to speak up and tell my boss that I couldn’t stand her (not that it would have been appropriate to do that exactly…), I let myself be treated like the office slave, and the only power I had was to show up late as a kind of F-You to the office. Needless to say, I quit that job before I turned into one of those grouchy middle-aged office drones that every workplace seems to have.
When I started at my current place of work, about 3 years ago now, it was a fresh start. I fell into my normal pattern of learning the job and becoming efficient at it, while putting on my happy face and making friends around the office. But suddenly I am aware that people know that I will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and instead of this being an asset, it is putting me at a disadvantage. This past week I realized that some people will use my friendliness and willingness to step in and help to take advantage of me. There were actually two unrelated situations this week in which I was asked by co-workers to do certain things. One of them being a high-level coworker, I simply did the things he asked, until my boss asked me why I didn’t push back. Well, I hadn’t even thought of telling him to do it himself. I’m embarrassed to say that I never even thought to tell him “no”, or suggest that he do it himself. The other incident was really stupid and involved arguing over who was going to pay to send tablecloths to the dry cleaners. On that one, I put my foot down and told the other person to get the tablecloths cleaned herself before returning them to me. Now that the incident is over, I can see it was probably a waste of time and breath, but I will say I felt some empowerment in standing up to her. Yet at the same time I am still pissed that she treated me the way she did, especially as she was someone I previously felt a good connection with.
Sometimes things happen and it just broadsides me. I know I can be a passive person. It’s part of my nature that I don’t want to cause strife or stir things up. But I hadn’t really considered it to be a negative thing. That people I work with could look at me like I’m a doormat that they can walk all over. It bugs me, because I don’t really WANT to be more forceful or intense. But I also realize that all this time that I am doing things for other people, regardless of whether I really want to be doing them or not, I could be doing myself a favor by standing up and saying no once in a while.
I actually have a book called The Assertiveness Workbook, by Randy J. Paterson, Ph.D. I got it a couple of years ago at the recommendation of the therapist I was seeing at the time. I’ve read it but I haven’t really done any of the exercises in it. I’m so passive that I can’t even bring myself to perform the exercises. No, perhaps it is because I am still in denial about how bad my situation really is.
I’m too old to keep blaming my issues on my childhood. In therapy, I would talk about how people were mean to me, and people didn’t like me because of my differences so I didn’t want to do anything to give anyone anymore reason not to like me. So I always tried to be everything to everyone. And of course I liked the positive responses I’d get, especially from teachers telling me how smart I was or whatever. And then in adult life, I loved the praise I got from my early employers about how fast I picked up skills and how I got along with everyone so well. But here I am at age 34, basically not much farther along in the professional world than I was at age 24, and it’s dawning on me that it’s time I start standing up for myself.
Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I mean I have come a long way. But I am tired of being seen as the nice girl who will just do whatever people ask of her. I’m trying to realize that aside from my immediate family and a few close friends, who cares if people like me or don’t? What difference does it make? And why do I expend so much energy trying to please everybody, when I should be focused on getting the job done, or fulfilling the goal. Why it it so hard to accept the old adage that you can’t please everyone?
All this ties back to the blog too, because there are some topics I want to write about and I think, oh, I can’t write what I really feel about this because some people won’t agree with me, and I don’t want them to stop reading. Or, I don’t want them to not like me. Yet if I keep posting these boring, vanilla-flavored posts, no one’s gonna like it after a while. Right?
Sigh. I actually feel kind of sick inside just thinking about it.