This week has been arduous. Why? Because my people pleasing tendencies are working against me.
I thought I’d got them under control. But right now inside my chest feels like an ocean crashing back and forth on itself.
It started at work when my boss sprung on us they’ve decided they want us to be available to work online for an hour in the evening when we’re at home. After we’ve already left work.
At first when she was talking about all this I was just taking notes, trying not to give in to any knee-jerk reactions. Even though I could very strongly sense Jeff’s reactions as if he was pinching me.
It wasn’t until all this faff about whether we’d start tonight or not, until after I left work, that I began to think this wasn’t fair. And of course, I felt guilty in thinking that.
But it wasn’t in our contract. And I really didn’t want to bring work home.
Skipping a load of he-said-she-saids, I left work (late) under the impression we weren’t doing it tonight and that we’d coordinate via WeChat about next week’s online thing.
So I get to the gym. I’m feeling stressed because my boundaries feel under pressure. And then I see my phone.
My boss had messaged saying: “8.10 tonight, thanks”. That’s when the raging ocean began.
On one hand, I knew it wasn’t a huge task. But on the other, she had just said I didn’t have to do it tonight.
And that when I did have to do it in future, I’d be paid for my time. But tonight I wouldn’t be. This one was coined “a favour”.
I was standing in the gym going back and forth like a ping pong ball during match point.
Was I bad person if I said no? Should I do it just this once? But wouldn’t doing it hinder my boundary setting of messaging outside of work hours? Should I just not reply at all?
I didn’t know what to do.
I felt bad. Maybe we’d misunderstood each other. But I also felt kind of cheated. She told me all this 5 minutes before we had to leave.
I was in a rush and exhausted from a battering week. Then, she’d messaged me out of work hours confusing the situation even further.
I knew it wasn’t a life-threatening decision. I knew there weren’t really any big stakes.
But I felt cornered. Like this decision had wayyyyy more weight than I first realised.
I felt physically incapable of saying no.
Because if I said no, I might actually burst into tears or vomit. At least, one of the two. It was tearing me up inside because my people-pleasing tendencies were bubbling up to the surface.
I thought I’d managed to conquer them ages ago, feeling like a boss and in my power. In that moment though, I realised they’d been creeping up for awhile.
I’ve always struggled with knowing when to say “no”. I even almost broke my ankle a couple of months ago because I hyped up in my head I was inconveniencing my landlord.
The worst thing anyone could ever say to me was “we’re so disappointed in you.”
I just have a natural tendency to want to please everyone. Whether I’m doing something for good reasons or out of obligation is difficult to decipher.
Feeling unable to say no for me doesn’t happen out of nowhere though. That extreme feeling happens after the accumulation of little situations.
Which is exactly why my boundaries felt so tested. Because up until now, little by little, I’ve said “yes”, “sure”, “okay, no problem”, to things beyond my job description. Requests beyond what we’d agreed.
And it’s a slippery fucking slope. You start to agree to one little thing. Then another. Then another. Before you know it, you’ve become the “yes girl”. People then think they can ask anything extra of you and assume, correctly, you’ll do it.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad to go the extra mile because you want to or because someone needs help. Of course not. I do that every day in my job already, and I’m okay with that.
Thinking of marketing tactics, writing slogans, and painting bloody (not literally “bloody”) half-ass costumes, to acting, singing, and dancing for reasons unbeknown to me. Just to name a few extra tasks.
And I do love to help people. Especially helping people to see and fulfill their potential and dreams.
But when you already go above and beyond because you care, only for people to stretch you even further, past where you are comfortable?
That, I’m not okay with. It makes me feel used. Like I’m being taken advantage of because I’m a hard worker.
There needs to be a discussion. There needs to be consent. If what I’m doing already isn’t what you want or need from me, that’s fine, let’s talk about it and how I can better serve you.
But asking for everything is too much.
Feeling unable to say no is NOT healthy or fruitful for either side. It leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, unheard, with their needs unmet.
To get past this shit-storm of people-pleasing, to be a functioning human-being able to create impactful change, what can you do?
Figure out what your boundaries are.
How? By answering these 3 (sometimes painful) questions:
What do you need to have in order to thrive?
What is too far for you — what is a deal-breaker?
What can you (and choose to) put up with?
I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy unpacking those questions. I had to do it while sitting in the gym with no air-con, sweating, and against the clock. It was rough.
You really begin to evaluate yourself in a way that feels weirdly obtrusive. It might even feel like you’re a stranger in your own head, trying to look at things objectively.
Who knows? You might knock out three concrete answers in 3 minutes 57 seconds. It’ll be different for everyone and for every situation.
But once you have those answers, compare them to your reality.
Do they match up?
Yes? Great. Keep doing whatever the heck you’re doing because it’s working and you’re feeling safe with your boundaries, you zen-thing you.
No? Well, what needs to change?
For me right now, being expected to be on-call outside of work hours (not even talking about this episode in particular, just in general) is too far for me.
In order to thrive, I need to have separation between work-time and home-time.
Because when it gets blurred by messages or emails which expect instant responses, it brings even more of my work home and into my head.
When instead I need to be resting or doing other girl-boss shit. (Plus, I’m already married to a coworker!)
I need to have those boundaries in place where people know after 5.30pm you can’t reach me.
Buttttt, I can put up with being scheduled to be available in the evening at certain times. If we agree on all this together and openly.
So, with all that in mind I decided after ages of going back and forth thinking out loud to my husband and of course, seeking my Mum’s infinite wisdom, that I shouldn’t cave.
The conclusion? I should stand my ground. Apologize for any miscommunication from my side and politely say:
You’re joking right? I’m not available.
Sending that message was so.damn.hard. I wrote it, and rewrote 3 times. And I got Jeff to check it before I sent it too. I was so nervous. I felt like I was overreacting.
She probably wasn’t strategically asking me this as I was leaving work to catch me in a moment of flux; she probably did just think of it.
She probably didn’t realise what my boundaries are. Which was part of the problem, if not the entirety of the problem.
Because really, it’s my responsibility to tell her my boundaries.
I decided I would explain all this to her when I was next at work. NOT over the weekend via WeChat.
And that’s where I started. With this one thing.
So, if you give this a try with something that’s testing you right now, tell me what your first step in changing it was.
I want to know what action you took and what happened because of it … good or bad. (But it’s like almost 99.8% chance it’s good, even if it doesn’t look like it at first).
After I stuck to my guns and and told my boss it was too short notice for me to work that night, I tried to carry on with my weekend. Work free.
Buttttttttt she messaged me the next day, and it took everythinggggggg in me not to open it. (It was my Saturday!)
I felt so bad I hadn’t done that favour for her. She hadn’t replied that evening so I thought she was pissed. So when I saw a message from her the next day, I panicked.
What did it say? Was she mad? Is she asking for another favour? Do I need to reply?
It played on my mind all weekend, which was super annoying. But actually, it was so worth it.
Because when I opened the message at work this morning, it said … we no longer had to be online when at home. She had carved out time in our working day to do it.
By not caving in, my message of “you’re pushing my boundaries and it’s making me uncomfortable”, came through without me even having to say anything.
Especially since up until now, I’d practically said yes to everything, no matter how big.
It won’t always happen this way. I’m very aware that at other times there will be necessary awkward conversations, where I’m vulnerable and honest in voicing my needs.
And it could seem like a failure having this unopened message plaguing my mind all weekend. I.e. The voice in the back of my head: “If you’re thinking about work anyway, why not just do work?”
But really, this was a small first step to taking back control of my boundaries.
The first step isn’t going to be easy. It’s not like just by deciding you’re unavailable, you’ll instantly be able to switch your brain off.
It’s just like any other kind of habit. Overwriting an old one takes time. But it’s always worth the discomfort in doing it.