Let me start by saying that I think that everyone’s primary intention in life should be to be of service. The world needs your gifts. People need the special kind of help that only you can offer. We should all be thinking about how we can give, how we can lift others up, how we can contribute to our communities.
But if you’re anything like me, the line between being of service and being a people pleaser can be...blurry. Looking after other people can become tangled up with your sense of self. I’m needed. I’m valued. I’m helpful. That feels good, right?
But it can easily teeter off the edge of Service and land squarely in the land of People Pleasing, where your inner DJ might be playing this on repeat: “If I don’t help people, they won’t love me. “If they’re not okay, I’m not okay.” “If I don’t show up for everything, I’m not worth anything.”
If that sounds familiar, you might be using your usefulness as a way to validate your ego. If you’re addicted to positive feedback, to being needed, or to taking responsibility for everyone’s feelings all the time, you might have gotten being of service mixed up with servicing your self-esteem.
The danger with this is that you lose your ability to discern when being of service to others is actually letting yourself down. (If “no” isn’t in your vocabulary, then I’m lookin’ at you!) Being of service to others shouldn’t cost you your health, your sanity or your ability to care for yourself. Perfectionism disguised as altruism is still perfectionism.
Here's the challenge: saying Yes feels so good. That's why we do it so often (for most of us, too often). Saying Yes has become our default because it's rewarding and affirming (in the short term). It just sort of slips out of our mouth, and then we get an instant hit - a People-Pleasing Power Up, if you will. It's like a sugar high. A cheap thrill. Hard to resist, usually followed by a hangover of regret.
Not always. Not when the Yes is authentic and aligned with your highest good. But mostly we say Yes as an impulse, not a considered, intentional response.
Here's a tool to liberate yourself from a cycle of incessant Yesses. Next time you find yourself about to say Yes, take a breath. Insert a momentary pause to consider this:
Check in with the resonance - is it a Yes of Love or a Yes of Fear? If the Yes is borne of Fear, you probably need to flip that Y to an N.
Other helpful questions:
Now, I know that taking time to consider your answer (is this a Yes or No?) can be awkward...not to mention that saying No itself can feel downright impossible for many of us. So tune in next week for a follow-up post with some practical perspectives on how to politely create space to consider your answer, as well tips (and scripts!) on how to say that tiny two-lettered word...No.
In the meantime, a prayer for all the Yes junkies in the crowd (myself included): May we breathe deeply into our bellies before saying “Yes,” and in doing so, be reminded of the difference between being of service and being a people pleaser.