Dear Diary, last month's post was heavy, but thank you for letting me share a shift I am currently living rooted in one big adulting lesson; you can't make everyone happy. But I am also learning you can find happiness by working past the fear of failure. As always on DD, I am a work in progress, but here is what I have learned about people pleasing and perfectionism that I hope helps you too.
Since forever, it has been hardwired into my brain to 'be good,' but somewhere during the twenty-five years of school, ballet lessons, growing up, and now adulting, the voice inside my head telling me to 'be good' turned into 'be perfect and if you aren't perfect, everyone will hate you.' For me, the idea of people liking me and being quote-on-quote perfect grew into a toxic cycle, an obsession that fed my anxiety daily, like a happy meal.
It's giving the monologue in Gone Girl minus *spoiler alert* faking my own death. Perfectionism is not just a theme in the movies but a universal struggle in girlhood and any young person's journey to adulthood. We want to do the right thing, and nothing is wrong with that. When you break it down, it's the basis of your eighteen-plus years of school. Literally, the whole objective of going to school, other than learning facts for Jeopardy, is to pass your classes, and if you don't, you get an 'F'- you fail. But eventually, school ends, and around that same time, the veil lifts, and you start to realize that's not how life works. Unfortunately, you can pass all of life's tests in a given week and still step in dog sh*t while running late for work.
I spent a lot of wasted time in young adulthood trying to make every relationship perfect, but I am learning that even if you try your damnest, you are still going to let people down. Not for lack of trying but because life is not perfect. So, as a people pleaser in recovery, here are some lessons that have helped me through my journey of conquering my own anxieties and fears.
Am I My Own Worst Enemy?
I'm not sure what the Google definition is of people pleasing, you can look it up and let me know, but what I can tell you is what it feels like. People pleasing feels like you are constantly climbing a mountain with the intention of making everyone around you happy. Yes, you may get to the top of the mountain, heck, you may even get there in record time, but regardless, sometimes you can still let people down. That realization for someone whose identity and belief systems since childhood have been rooted in how people feel about them (cough, cough, raising my hand) can be gut-wrenching.
In my last post, I talked about having a breakdown to have a breakthrough. While I was experiencing that for myself, which personally was rooted in depression and anxiety, I came face to face with my fear of not being perfect in the eyes of other people. In that breakdown, I realized I needed to unsubscribe from my membership of the People Pleasing Club- at least if I was going to take control back of my life. Sometimes it takes just an inch of self-awareness to realize that although we don't get to decide every circumstance in our lives, we can own our sh*t and actively choose to break toxic cycles.
Something Has to Change
I don't think I liked myself very much, as little as around six months ago. I know that sounds harsh, but what I mean is I did not see myself as perfect. Do I see myself as perfect now? Absofuckinglutely not, but what has changed is that I am coming to understand that perfection isn't achievable. Once I started accepting the idea that life will never be perfect, or at least some crazy definition I came up with at age five of perfect, I started enjoying life more than ever before.
The harsh news is this probably will only happen once something seismic happens in your life. But life is funny like that; if you aren't picking up the hints from the universe, it'll throw you a tornado or an earthquake. And yes, my breakthrough moment was different from the movies, when the main character has a monumental shift in their life, gives a moving speech to a good soundtrack, and then walks, or more like floats, away smiling with bouncy hair.
Your breakthrough moment will 9 out of 10 times usually feel and look a lot more sh*tty of an experience with no good lighting, hair, or makeup, but you feel the shift just the same. It will happen for you in a moment that historically would break you, but instead, it makes you stronger. That is when you begin to realize that your fears and anxieties, whether they be people pleasing, perfectionism, or anything in between, although we can't decide these things, we can choose how we react to them.
Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Breaking a habit always feels ten times harder than making one, but once you start embracing the parts of yourself that you used to want to change, whether that be for other people or that other people may have told you that you should change, that's when it starts clicking. Challenging anxiety with the worst-case scenario is a tool I learned a decade ago in therapy, and it helps when you apply it to perfectionism, whether in people pleasing or any aspect of your life.
No, I am not saying pull a full-on Reputation Era (that uses up my one TSwift reference for this post) and tell everyone who loves and supports you to go f*ck themselves, but it does mean to start challenging situations or people make you feel less than, like a failure, or anxious. That is definitely where boundaries come in, my favorite new superpower.
Boundaries take time. I talk a lot about them because they're hard and a process, but like any habit or breaking one, it takes time and practice. Personally, as an anxious people pleaser, the more I set boundaries, the more I learn to love them. At first, they are uncomfortable and can feel wrong, primarily if you have taught yourself catering to others is the only way to succeed. But, eventually, you realize through setting boundaries that everyone else's happiness is not your responsibility. You are only responsible for yourself.
Being You Is as Perfect as It Gets
I am by no means past the point of wanting to make the people in my life happy. In some ways, this will always be a part of my personality to my core. I read a quote on Pinterest that 'people pleasing hides the real you,' and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. When you have based your whole sense of self and worth around making other people happy, them liking you, and being 'perfect' for a quarter of a century, beginning to discover who you are underneath those obstacles can be a beautiful experience.
If I could say something to my younger self, I would tell her that being her is as perfect as it gets. Although I can't do that, I can tell my twenty-five-year-old self every day, or at least until I start to think so delusionally, and I can tell the DD readers the same.
There is no perfect in this world, but there is being your authentic self, and that's the most perfect you that can exist.