the end of people pleasing

Diana Krall, the honey badger of blues. She gets up there and does her thing , totally not giving a rat’s hiney if you like it or not.

In this post I wrote about a part of me that I was estranged from for many years: my carefree, bold, unconventional, independent, fun-loving, rebellious, flapper girl. Now that she is back in my life with a vengeance, she occasionally raises hell.

This past year as I’ve increasingly embraced this side of me, I’ve been less and less interested in pleasing people. As is to be expected, this has resulted in people becoming.. DUH DUH DUUUH…displeased. When this happened before, I would always rush to fix it, sometimes bending over backwards to make sure someone’s nose didn’t get out of joint. Well, lately noses have been getting out of joint all over town, and guess what? I find that life goes on. In fact, I admit that for a little while I was taking perverse pleasure in displeasing people. I wasn’t going out of my way to do it, but when it happened, I enjoyed the spectacle. I think I’m over that phase now, but I can’t imagine ever being a people pleaser again. It’s exhausting! I have so much more energy now for other things, like doing what pleases me.

Pleasing people is the enemy of loving people. The compulsion behind pleasing people is a lame need to be liked. To really love people powerfully, you have to let go of the need to be liked. You have to stop being nice and start being real. Also, pleasing people makes it difficult to respect and love yourself, an absolute requirement for loving others. Being able to say and do what I like without regard for what others think is liberating, but a much stronger motivator for me personally to stop pleasing is the ability to love more truly and powerfully.

How is it that we become people pleasers? We certainly are not born that way! And I was an especially displeasing infant and young child. We become people pleasers if we think that’s what we need to do to be loved. Or if we internalize limiting beliefs, like that we need to be everyone’s friend or that it’s not ok to dislike people. If we don’t feel free to dislike people, we get upset if someone dislikes us, so we try to please them into liking us. It’s slavery.

I don’t trust people who are universally liked or who try to be universally liked. The people I most admire, respect, and find attractive are those who are brave enough to think, say, and do what they like, even if it’s controversial. People who try to be controversial are a bit tiring, but if controversiality is just a result of people speaking their truth, I think it’s cool.


Daring Greatly

IMG_1830I finished Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly about a week ago while in London for Stoicon. I saw one of Brown’s TED talks years ago. I haven’t re-watched it recently. Many friends and even people I barely know have recommended Brown’s books to me so I thought I’d give one a try. Daring Greatly seemed the most appealing for what I want right now in my life. I would love to be more courageous and daring. Brené Brown makes a killing from her best selling books and also rakes it in as a popular keynote speaker. I was curious to see what she offers.

My initial reaction to this book was confusion. I had seen it marketed as psychology and self-help, neither of which I found here. Brown is a self-described shame researcher, but if this were a psychology book about shame, the Super-Ego would be mentioned at least. It’s not self-help because there are no practical suggestions or tools given for actually becoming more vulnerable and thus, courageous. I was also confused about what constitutes “shame.” For Brown, the shame tent is nearly all-encompassing. Self-loathing, fear of rejection, embarrassment (even though she says not), anxiety, overwhelm, discouragement, feelings of unworthiness, and perfectionism are all “shame” for Brown.

I also found myself wincing as I read. Brown’s constant reference to her credentials and popularity is off-putting. She seems to have an overpowering need to establish herself as an expert. It’s as if she were constantly asking, “Do you believe me know? And now? How about now?” On a related note, in the book she talks about how we wince when someone overshares. She attributes the compulsion to overshare to shame (of course) and justifies her own oversharing as acceptable because she only opens up about personal issues she has already worked through. I have not seen Brown on tv and barely remember her TED talk, but I imagine her to be a very charming and engaging speaker in person. She likely has an attractive personality and that’s why she gets away with oversharing and, well, neediness. Because she is so vibrant she comes off as being real and authentic in her neediness rather than tedious.  I should clarify that I didn’t flinch so much at her oversharing since she brings a lot of self-awareness to it, but to her need to convince readers that she is an expert.

Her book appears to be a description of the results of a sociological study rather than psychology or self help. However, as far as her research methods go, I am left with the question: How is this any different from someone talking to a lot of people and finding her own personal issues in other people’s stories? It’s a very human response for sure, but I’m not sure I’d call it scientific or research or data. Also, the entire tone of the book seems to be, “Did you know there is this thing out there called shame? and I have personally discovered  and uncovered it as the source of all of society’s ills!” There is zero historical context or mention of past shame researchers.

The truth is, a week after reading this book, very little of it sticks with me. There was a lot about the paralyzing effects of perfectionism. That is something I became aware of in myself and started dealing with in my early 20s. I couldn’t relate to many of her personal anecdotes. I did like the paragraph about Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher but I had already seen Neff’s TED talk. In fact I had recommended here her website and self-compassion exercises as practical and useful.

I really can’t think who I would recommend this book to in spite of it being so popular and lauded. In its place I would recommend Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation by Parker J. Palmer if you are looking to feel more centered and grounded in your authentic self. I liked Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism by Thomas S. Greenspon.

I have to say I even question the importance of vulnerability in courageous action as compared to wisdom and discretion. Why was Catherine the Great such a powerfully courageous monarch? Because she was wise. She started reading practical philosophy as a young girl and sought to develop her own personal philosophy of life that guided her every action. She was courageous because after years of seeking wisdom in books and from her own astute observations of court life, she was expert at assessing risk, whether it be in a personal relationship with an advisor or a war with millions of lives at stake. I would like to be vulnerable in the way that Catherine the Great was, to have the ability to dispassionately take stock of my weaknesses and strengths, to be humble enough to take good counsel and yet confident enough to make my own decisions.

I have made some brave decisions in the past few years of my life. Many people have asked me how I got that courage and just now I have been reflecting on that. I think my dad encouraged me to be both wise and daring as a kid. Many times he would see that I wanted to do something, like to ride a spirited horse for example, but my fear kept me back. I remember his voice as he told me, “You can do it and you will be fine. Yes, that’s it. You’re doing great!” Many times these attempts ended in the “failure” of me being thrown from the horse and experiencing physical pain, but my father made me see these instances as triumphs over fear. I learned from him that you have to go for it and that sometimes pain happens. Pain is pain, nothing more and nothing less. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

welcome home… bienvenida a casa

IMG_9434My first glimpse of you was as a child of four or five. One day my great-grandmother took out a box and showed me its contents: two coiled braids of fiery-copper hair. “This is what they cut off when one day in the 1920s, my sister and I snuck out of the house and without our parents’ permission, bobbed our hair,” she said. My great-grandmother played piano at the grange hall dances where she also danced the Charleston in her youth. My mother taught me the Charleston when she and other adults were still giant-size to me.

La primera vez que te eché un vistazo, yo era una niña de cuatro o cinco años. Un día mi bisabuela sacó una caja del armario y me enseñó su contenido: dos bucles de trenzas de color cobre. “Esto es lo que nos cortaron a mí y a mi hermana en los años 20 cuando un día nos dio por cortarnos el pelo al estilo de la época sin el permiso de nuestros padres.” Mi bisabuela tocaba el piano en los bailes donde también bailaba el Charleston en su juventud. Mi madre me enseñó a bailar el Charleston aun cuando ella y los demás adultos me parecían gigantes.


I next saw you at age eight, when a dance teacher moved to our small town in central Maine and started giving lessons. I started class a couple weeks late for some reason. At my first class we did ballet for a while and then all of the other little girls ran to change into their tap shoes. I didn’t have tap shoes yet, but I still remember the feeling of utter fascination, excitement, and longing I felt watching the other girls clack around in those shiny black shoes. I had seen Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies on Saturday afternoons with my mother and I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to glide around a room looking fabulous and making beautiful noise with my shoes. I was incapable of thinking about anything else until I had my own pair. I don’t know if I have ever wanted something as much in my life as I wanted those tap shoes. I cried when the dance teacher moved away a year later.

La próxima vez que te vi, tenía ocho años. Una profe de baile se mudó a nuestro pueblo pequeño y empezó a dar clases. Yo empecé un par de clases más tarde. En mi primera clase, primero hicimos ballet y después todas las niñas fueron a ponerse los zapatos de claqué. Yo aún no había comprado los míos pero todavía recuerdo la sensación de fascinación, ilusión, y añoranza que sentí a ver a las otras niñas bailar con aquellos zapatos negros puestos. Ya había visto las películas de Ginger Rogers y Fred Astair los sábados por la tarde con mi madre y jamás me había imaginado que allí estaría yo,  deslizándome por la pista de baile viéndome fabulosa y haciendo ruido bello con mis zapatos. Me obsesioné. Fui incapaz de pensar en otra cosa hasta que tuve mis propios zapatos de claqué. No sé si he llegado a desear algo tanto en mi vida. Lloré y me deprimí un tiempo cuando la profe de baile se mudó un año después y mis clases se acabaron.

Later I saw you in brightly-colored dresses with impossibly long fringe in Singing in the Rain. When it came time for me to go to the prom, I designed a black dress covered completely in fringe and a friend’s mom made it. I was disappointed when I first tried it on and saw myself in the full-length mirror. The girls in Singing in the Rain were showing their beautiful shoulders and the material of their dresses was stretchy with room to dance in. My dress was a constricting black sheath with a fairly high neckline, as required for a Mormon girl. I felt encased and upholstered.

Después te vi en los vestidos de colores brillantes con fleco en la película Singing in the Rain. Cuando llegó prom (la fiesta formal de instituto de los EEUU), diseñé un vestido negro completamente cubierto de flecos que me confeccionó la madre de una amiga. Me sentí desilusionada cuando me lo probé y me vi en el espejo. Las chicas de Singing in the Rain se mostraban los hombros tan hermosos y la tela de sus vestidos tenía elástico que les permitía bailar a gusto. Mi vestido en cambio era una funda estrecha sin escote y con los hombros cubiertos, tal como requería mi religión estricta. Me sentí encerrada y tapizada.

I found you in a book about Hollywood stars of the 20s-40s. My favorite by far Annex - Brooks, Louise (Beggars of Life)_04was Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks looked on the outside how I felt on the inside. She had all of that range between boyish charm and sexy siren. I spent many of my days dressed like a boy and Louise-Brooks-31being mistaken for a boy on my father’s farm. But I didn’t always feel like a boy. When I went home to my bedroom and saw my Jean Harlow poster on the wall, which I had mostly hung there to scandalize my mother, I felt like Jean Harlow. I wanted to wear stiletto heels, silky dresses, furs, and feathers, all with a debouched and devil-may-care attitude.

Te encontré en un libro de estrellas de Hollywood de los años 20-40. Me preferida era Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks se veía por fuera como yo me sentía por dentro. Tenía todo el abanico entre sirena sexy y estilo masculino. Yo pasaba muchos días vestida como un niño en la granja de mi padre, pero no me sentía como un niño. Cuando llegaba a casa y veía en la pared de mi habitación el poster de Jean Harlow que había colgado allí para escandalizar a mi madre, me sentía como Jean Harlow. Quería ponerme los tacones de aguja, vestidos de seda, pieles, y plumas, y todo con un aire de chica disoluta y temeraria.

I found you in music, dance, film, books, and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, fellow high-spirited Maine girl. I found you driving at 100 mph in my car on a summer night. I found you in my Ecuador adventures at age sixteen. I found you in midnight escapades of high hilarity and daring with my high school friends. I found you in the mirror sometimes in a girl breezily self-confident, free of convention, original, spicy, and fun.

Te encontré en la música, el baile, las películas, los libros. Te encontré en la poesía de Edna St. Vincent Millay, una chica también de Maine y llena de vida. Te encontré conduciendo a 180 km en una noche de verano. Te encontré en mis aventuras en Ecuador cuando tenía dieciséis años. Te encontré en correrías de hilaridad y osadía con mis amigos del instituto. A veces te encontraba en la chica del espejo, una chica segura de sí misma, libre de la convención, original, y divertida.

I got married when I was still a child, and that’s when I lost you. I will tell you how it happened. There had always been this Victorian girl at my shoulder. Victorian-Ladiy-Image-Velvet-GraphicsFairyStern and self-important in her principles and morals, quiet and yet insistent. When I got married she stepped in, in all of her efficiency and righteousness, and took your place. She wagged her finger at you and made you feel judged and out of place. You went far away. I missed you, but the Victorian girl comforted me. She said you were a bad influence and not to be trusted, and that it was for the best. She was not a bad sort. She was a gentle and nurturing mother who loved the bonds of home and family. She felt safe and valued there. She was responsible, self-sacrificing, and dutiful. Her modest dress reflected her modest attitude toward her personal achievements beyond motherhood and wifehood.

Me casé cuando era una niña aún, y fue cuando te perdí. Te contaré como pasó. Siempre había una chica victoriana a mi lado. Seria, rígida, algo pretenciosa en sus principios y moralidad, callada pero insistente. Cuando me casé, ella con toda su eficacia y rectitud, se hizo cargo de mí. Te regañó, te juzgó, y te hizo sentir fuera de lugar. Y tú te fuiste. Te echaba de menos, pero la chica victoriana me consolaba. Me dijo que eras una mala influencia, que no eras de fiar, y que era mejor que te alejaras de mi. La chica victoriana no era una mala tipa. Era una madre tierna y cariñosa que amaba las ataduras de familia y hogar. Se sentía segura y valorada allí. Era responsable, abnegada, y diligente. Su forma de vestir tan modesta simbolizaba su actitud modesta hacia sus hazañas más allá de la maternidad y el hogar.

Things happened. I made choices that frightened and disgusted the Victorian girl. You, my childhood crush, came back into my life to dance with me in the kitchen. I started seeing you at jazz concerts. You re-taught me the Charleston and together we learned to swing. We are all about emphasizing the second and the fourth beat now, you and I. We are never in a hurry, no matter how intense and driving the music may be. That’s how we groove.

Pasaron cosas. Tomé decisiones que asustaron e indignaron a la chica victoriana. Tú volviste a mi vida para bailar conmigo en la cocina. Empecé a verte en los conciertos de jazz. Me volviste a enseñar como bailar el Charleston y juntas aprendimos el Lindy Hop. Para ti y para mí, se trata de acentuar el segundo y cuarto tiempo. No nos apuramos en nada, da igual la intensidad de lo que pase a nuestro alrededor. Así bailamos la vida tú y yo.

kay francis 2For a while Victorian girl hated that you were back. She felt threatened. She talked bad about you and tried to get me to fear you. She threatened to leave if you stayed around. I told her that I don’t want her to leave. We’ve had some good times together and I value her, but I made it clear to her that you are back to stay. She has to accept you.

Por un tiempo, la chica victoriana odiaba que estuvieras de vuelta. Hablaba mal de ti e intentó que yo te tuviera miedo. Me amenazó con irse ella si tú te quedabas. Le dije que no quería que se fuera. Hemos vivido cosas muy importantes juntas y la valoro, pero le dije claramente que tú ya estás para quedarte. Le dije que te tenía que aceptar.

She has to accept you because since you came back, I am whole. I am wild and exuberant and free. I am more in the moment. I’m more at ease. I’m more comfortable in my skin. My world has more color, taste, sound, smell. I’m stronger. Ironically, I’m a better Christian. I like myself better now that you are back, and if there is a God, I think He would like me better now, too.

Te tiene que aceptar porque desde que volviste, soy completa. Soy más salvaje, más llena de vitalidad, más libre. Estoy más en el momento. Estoy más a mis anchas. Mi mundo tiene más color, sabor, sonido, y olor. Soy más fuerte. Y hasta soy mejor cristiana. Me gusto más a mí misma y creo que si hay un dios, yo le gustaría más a él ahora también.