How I stopped being a people pleaser

Every time you say yes to someone, you say no to yourself.

This statement seems mean right? This is because it is. But it has to. Sometimes we have to do mean things because we care about ourselves. I have to do mean things because I care about myself.

I have been a people pleaser for years, especially for people I admired, people I wanted to be friends with or people I did not want to disappoint like my family. The answer was always yes.

“Can you do my homework?” Yes!

“Can you stop reading your book and come with me to the market?” Yes!

“I am sorry, my boyfriend fell in love with your favourite CD and asked me if he could take it. I said yes, I hope you don’t mind!” (true story) Of course I don’t!

“Can you come on stage and grab the mic to sing and dance with me though I know you hate having everybody looking at you?” (true story) Yes!

I thought saying no would make me look less “interesting”, less “friendable”, less “likable”. I was a people pleaser because I thought it was the only way to be accepted and to fit in. When I graduated with a M.A. in translation, I took the people pleasing part of me with me in the professional world… and it was a mess.

I was always ready to work for less than I should have been paid or even for free, and this was for two reasons:

  • I thought being nice to clients was the only way to secure their loyalty, so I accepted to work for free or for ridiculous amounts of money (and they were loyal. Not to me though, but to my stupidity!)
  • I was so afraid to disappoint clients with a horrible work and I was so unsure of my worth as a translator (despite my very good grades in school) that I was scared to charge for my work.

I was doing everything I could to make those around happy with me and to be there for them, but I was feeling miserable because I rarely was there for myself. I went to parties I didn’t want to attend, did extra homework, extra chores at home… I was putting myself after them.

It nurtured resentment for my entourage.

When you always say yes, people always keep asking.

At some point they even stopped saying “please” because it was so obvious to them I would always say yes. The question mark disappeared at the end of sentences and it starts feeling like orders I had to obey.

Resentment was a very difficult feeling to handle in that case because at some point I didn’t know anymore who was to blame, them for ordering or me for letting things go that extent.

The main reason why I stopped being a people pleaser was not because I wanted to, but because I could not do it anymore.

When I started working two jobs and blogging almost at the same time, I was exhausted. I tried going on pleasing people but I couldn’t. It is at that time that I realised this:

One yes means a thousand yes.

Those I used to say yes to went furious when I started to say no. “You used to do it, what means you can do it, what means you have to do it”. Even those I said yes to only once. I was supposed to translate the updated version of a CV because I translated the previous version. I had to edit a 10 pages text because I edited a thesis before. All this was… very difficult to handle.

But I did not completely stop until I learned about the value of time through podcasts and personal growth stuff. Time never comes back. Losing my time doing other people’s stuff while they were using theirs doing what they wanted to was stupid.

I was always late for this or that because I was dealing with other people’s priorities.

Today I have to say no 95% of the time. This is not to brag, but with what I learned in school, what I learned through my job in a think tank, what I learned as a blogger/website manager and what I learned from the books I read, I mastered a lot of stuff. And the more skilled you are, the more people will ask for impossible stuff like designing and managing a website for them for free (true story) or write articles they will sign (true story).

I have to say no to them to say yes to myself and have time to do my own job, meet my own deadlines, produce my own content, manage my own platforms, enjoy my own free time and be the master of my own time. People pleasing is only pleasant for those who are receiving.

Saying no all the time does not mean I never say yes. Sometimes people do really need help, they are not always asking to take advantage of me.

Here are 5 cases where I will ALWAYS say no:

  • The person wants me to translate for free (that’s my job man! I need to eat!)
  • The person wants to pay me less than they should, pretending my rates are expensive (please go where it is not, my dear!)
  • The person knows the amount of work what they are asking for represents but ask me to do it for free for the sake or friendship or whatever.
  • The person does not come to me with a please-can-you-teach-me-how-to kind of attitude, but with a I-don’t-know-how-to-do-it-but-you-do-so-do-it attitude (I can put everything on hold and spare a whole week teaching something to someone or do online research for days on for people who showed me they are ready to learn what they ask of me to be able to do it themselves next time!)
  • When I know one yes will mean a thousand yes (the you-did-it-last-time-so-you-can-do-it-again attitude is kind of predictable) or when the person comes to me with a request that keeps up requesting (when someone tells me “please can you tell me what you think of my text” thinking I won’t get what they really mean is “read the text, then check if what I said is accurate, then tell me what I should add, then edit it to improve the quality”. I would have probably said yes if the person told me the whole truth right from the beginning!)

It is not always easy to say no, but 95% of the time I have to if I want to be able to reach my goals. Time never comes back, and a day is only 24 hours. Let us all use each of them wisely.

Hello, my name is Befoune, and I talk about citizen participation and empowerment in my country, Cameroon, on the platform Elle Citoyenne. My dear friend Tchassa Kamga and I created the publication Self-Ish to document our lives as humans and share our experience in self improvement, content creation and what we call human relationships.