Confessions of a People-pleasing Perfectionist

All right, fellow perfectionists and people pleasers, this one’s for us.

On my last editing course, I got 70%. It’s a passing grade, but it’s not the high score and dripping praise I’m used to. In fact, it’s downright embarrassing.

So why am I telling you?

I’m sharing this because although the mark was disappointing, it was also very instructional. (Apparently, it was more instructional than the course.)

In receiving that score, I learned a truckload about myself. I was mortified and confused at the grade I got on my final assignment and then equally shocked and bewildered at how I completely overlooked submitting the last reflection piece for the course. What the…?

When I opened up the online campus website and received notification of my mark, I had a really strong, very unpleasant reaction. First, an ice-cold bolt of embarrassment shot up my spine and into the base of my skull.

How do you recover from 70%?

Next, my mind started whirling. How would I redeem myself in the eyes of the instructor? How could I assure her that I am actually a pretty good person and not a bad writer? How would I rebuild my life and my reputation after receiving 70%?

Clearly, I over-reacted. At that time, though, I didn’t want to judge my reaction. That’s pointless. Instead, I wanted to know why I reacted this way, so strongly, like my body and mind were suddenly poisoned. What’s up with that? That was a question worth answering.

So I dropped the urge to blame myself or blame the instructor. (I really wanted to blame someone.) I avoided making excuses or creating justifications. (I had a million excuses ready to go.) I wanted to get at the reason 70% bothered me so much. (This was harder than blaming or making excuses.)

New information and lifelong learning.

When I looked closely, the answer stared right back at me: I’m a people-pleasing perfectionist! Who knew? This information genuinely surprised me, but it’s the fact responsible for my humiliation.

I wanted to impress the instructor and I wanted to do the assignment perfectly. Neither of these things is always possible and they sure didn’t happen in this case.

Half a century later…

It took me nearly half a century and a lot of wasted energy, but I think I understand. I really can’t please everyone all the time. Occasionally I’m going to try something and get the equivalent of 70%.

These facts are difficult to accept. They are also freeing. Until now, I thought it was just a saying: You can’t please everybody so you’ve got to please yourself. This songwriter wasn’t kidding. I really can’t please everyone. At times, I won’t make anyone happy. This is new and useful information. It’s kind of reassuring.

A hard habit to break.

People-pleasing perfectionism is going to be a hard habit to break. If I succeed at freeing myself from this addiction, what will I do with all the time I spent trying to make people like and accept me?

I know! I’ll work on liking and accepting myself. I’ll live my own life without fearing what folks might think.

I can’t change others, but I can change how I love and support myself. Then, instead of chasing around after praise and adoration, I can walk out into the world comfortable in my own flawed skin with love to give. My actions won’t be perfect, but they will be genuine and maybe that’s what matters.

For more about me, perfectionism and the pain of getting 70%, come on over to