The Unbearable Lightness of Being Yourself

Deadlines. New demands. Rising expectations. If you’re like most accomplished professionals, you spend most of your day fighting off requests from other people. They want your time, energy, and expertise. Since you’re a loyal team player, you’re happy to give it. Perhaps you’re also the last one to leave at the end of the day and the first to take on new responsibilities.

While caring about your work is great, giving too much can deplete you quickly. As a result of chronic people pleasing, you may feel overwhelmed, overworked, and unappreciated for all of the extra support you provide, which can lead to burnout and resentment.

How do you break the people pleasing cycle? Here’s four steps to try:

1. Name your underlying fear

Typically, people pleasing is the flip side of tremendous strengths like sensitivity and commitment. Your intentions to help may come from a good place, but it’s important to own up to the fears driving your “need to please”. Do you fear rejection? Failure? Simply putting a label on your fears can reduce their power over you.

2. Get radically honest about what people pleasing is costing you

Ask yourself if the payoff of always being the likable or dependable one around the office is worth the consequences. Agreeing to every request can not only wear you out, but also undermine your personal integrity. You may find yourself carrying out ideas you don’t truly believe in. Conversely, the ability to assert yourself appropriately, take pride in your ideas, and prioritize your own needs can help you excel in your career.

3. Teach others how to treat you

If you don’t value your time, no one else will. Instead of making yourself overly accessible, put boundaries in place. Push back against unreasonable requests. Learn to say no.

Privately rehearse responses like, “I have a big deadline approaching, and I’m completely focused on that. Try asking Angela for help,” or, “I can work on that after I complete this report.” You may also want to consider establishing timeframes. For example, “I am free to help on Tuesday from 10 AM until 12 PM.”

Practicing phrases like these will make turning down a project feel much more natural, which can alleviate concerns about damaging your relationships.

4. Do the opposite

If jumping in to help is your default response (even when it’s counterproductive or self-sabotaging), borrow a psychological technique known as “opposite action”. “Opposite action” is exactly what it sounds like. It involves redirecting unhelpful responses to healthier behavior by doing the opposite of what our emotions tells us to do. If your urge is to step in and mediate every problem, do the opposite by coaching people to take ownership of solutions themselves, for instance.

Striving to make everyone happy all of the time is not sustainable. It might be possible in the short term, but ultimately, the only person you have complete control over is you. Make yourself your first priority, and you’ll be happier in your work and a better professional for it.

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