How to Reclaim Your Life

[dc]D[/dc]uring a coaching call, my client – we’ll call her Marilyn – is talking about how her days are way too busy and not with things that are necessarily important to her. She wants more time to focus on her career and business pursuits, but her current commitments make it difficult.

“Tell me about these commitments,” I say.

“Well, I feel like I shouldn’t even complain because they’re not terrible. I’m meeting friends for coffee, seeing some shows, and collaborating with colleagues on creative projects.”

In digging further, I learn that these coffee dates that Marilyn has agreed to are often with “friends” who drain her energy, but on some level she feels obligated to say yes. The shows that she sees are enjoyable, yes, but also have her living vicariously through the performers, preventing her from stepping out there herself.

There are several things going on here: fear, lack of boundaries, and people pleasing to name a few.

“Are you up for a challenge?” I say to Marilyn, who by now has come to (mostly) love my challenges and is often willing to dive right in – one of the many things that makes her a great client.

“Sure?” she says a bit trepidatiously.

“OK, I want you to disappoint one person a day for the next two weeks.”

“Oh, gosh. OK. That terrifies me and excites me all at the same time!”

“Well, that tells me we’ve hit on something here.”

I give her some examples like canceling a coffee date with someone who she’s not ecstatic about spending time with, letting her husband know that dinner won’t be made one night, or saying “no” to a family member’s request to stay at her place.

Three days after issuing the challenge, Marilyn sends me an email.

“You may have created a monster,” she writes. “I am loving disappointing people!”

Then I read the next line – the most poignant statement of her note: “I feel like, for the first time in a very long time, I’m living life on my terms. And I feel powerful!”

Huzzah! Love it! In the weeks after the challenge, I see Marilyn being much more selective with the invitations and requests that she agrees to, and I also witness her stepping more and more into her light and starting to really live out loud. As a result, the relationships that matter to her have deepened and her commitment to self is up high on her priority list.

Can you relate to Marilyn? Are you a people pleaser? Is your identity wrapped up in what you do for others? In being needed? Do you fear consequences if you say “no” to someone in your life? If so, then it’s not really your life, is it? You become merely a character in other people’s plays.

Now I ‘ve got a challenge for you. Stop and take a peek at your calendar. Go ahead. I’ll wait….

Are you excited for the upcoming days or dreading them? While you may have some appointments that aren’t ideal, what we’re looking for here is whether the majority fit that category.

If you find that it’s the people pleaser who does most of the booking, consider these questions:

  • What is your intention behind being everything to everyone?
  • Now dig a little deeper – what’s your motivation really?
  • What are you trying to gain? Love? Acceptance? Company?
  • What are you trying to avoid? A confrontation? Pursuing your own dreams? Abandonment?
  • What feels scary about saying “no”?
  • How do you feel about the idea of those commitments being gone? Relieved? Tentative? Free? Lonely?

Take some time to meditate on this or try some free writing. Just letting the pen fly across the page (or fingers across the keyboard) with no filter, knowing no one else will ever see it, can be incredibly revealing. If you’re tired of everyone else’s needs coming before yours, this will help you see why you allow that to be so. Remember, you do have a choice.

Now that you’re more clear on the reasons behind your people pleasing, the next thing you want to do is be more mindful as requests come your way. It’ll take time to create a new habit of pausing to check in with yourself before responding, but soon it will become your natural pace. You can start just by recognizing instances when you wish you hadn’t answered so quickly so you can get a sense of the types of requests you’d prefer to decline. You got this!

OK, dear reader. You’re up. Thoughts on the topic? Where could you use some support? Are you a recovering people pleaser? How did you right your course? Let’s spark some juicy conversation in the comments below.

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1 reply
  1. Cathy Womack
    Cathy Womack says:

    I have taken your challenge to disappoint people and it was very uplifting. My problem is most people in my life are family, selfish and self-centered. Standing up to them is a challenge.
    They want me to listen to stories about their lives, but not mine, if I want to do or go somewhere with them it has to be on their terms. They never ask what I want and when I get frustrated and try to talk to them it never goes well. Excuses begin to roll off their tongues and they say things like, “Here we go again”. What am I missing?


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