“So do you think you can do that for me?”
I should say no. I should point out that I have a million projects due this week, that I haven’t had a restful night of sleep in ages, that I don’t want to take on more work. Say no, say no, say no!
I’ll walk away from this encounter kicking myself, wishing I had the courage to let that little word slip through my lips. But I don’t. When a friend, professor, acquaintance or enemy asks me for a favor, I accept without delay. I live to please, and this habit has certainly made my life rewarding. However, I’ll be the first to admit that being a people pleaser tends to bring more trouble than peace into my life.
You know how parents love to use the “I’m disappointed in you” line on their kids? At 20 years-old, that phrase still works on me like a charm. I hear those words in my nightmares. But I can’t be alone; surely others out there cringe at the thought of letting a professor down. How many of you have taken on extra projects for a teacher simply because you couldn’t bring yourself to say “no”? I certainly have.
During the first semester of my freshman year, my Spanish professor asked me and a close friend to participate in the Spanish Talent Show, an exhibition of Spanish skits, music and more to which the entire school was invited to attend. Now, a normal person might feel excited at the prospect of showing off their linguistic talents. I do not fall into that category. I like to avoid attention whenever possible, and this was especially true during my freshman year.
The very last thing I wanted to do was perform onstage—in my second language—in front of a room filled with native Spanish speakers. A rational person would have said “no.” What did I say? “Sí, puedo hacerlo.” A week later I stood trembling under a spotlight while I shakily delivered my lines to the audience. When the show finally drew to a close the only English words left in my head were “Never. Again.” I certainly did not disappoint my professor that night, but at what cost?
My employers also benefit from my inability to deny a favor. I relish my work as a writing tutor because it allows me to use my time for the sole purpose of helping others. Because of this, I often sign up for extra hours whenever my boss offers them. This certainly doesn’t qualify as a bad habit, but it tends to result in a lack of sleep for myself.
One night, my boss asked for tutors to trek out to the freshman dorms and work from the study lounges, so that students would have direct access to us. Great idea, right?
Well, this happened to take place the night before a paper deadline, and procrastinators flooded the lounges. I walked into a room with stressed out students as far as the eye could see. All of them had written their names on a waiting list. Technically, I should only have been on duty for two hours. Knowing me, though, you can probably imagine what actually happened. The freshmen looked at me with panic-stricken eyes. I felt obligated to stay until every student on the list had been given a consultation.
At this point, 2 a.m. came and went. I didn’t want to make the walk to my dorm across campus alone. I had two options: sleep in the public study lounge of an underclassmen dorm or awkwardly wake an RA friend and beg him to walk me home. I chose the latter, and sauntered up to his room to explain my situation. Luckily, he found my predicament more amusing than annoying. He agreed to protect me from the dangers of the night while I made the trip home. I have since made an effort to sign up for earlier shifts and thus haven’t yet had to sleep in a study lounge. I do hope that I’ll never be presented with that option again.
My friends like to joke that I’ve become Minnesota’s own Leslie Knope. I like to take it as a compliment. I might not be able to rock a power blazer the way she does, but I can go to sleep confident that I’ve helped someone that day. When you live to serve, you live a rewarding life. You have the power to make someone’s day, to lessen their stress—who wouldn’t want that?
Living as a people-pleaser can certainly make your life more positive, but it has significant drawbacks as well. I’ll share the more humorous incidents that have resulted from this habit. But in all seriousness, living only to please others make it easier for them to take advantage of you.
Pace yourself, don’t take on more than you can handle or everyone, yourself included, will be left unsatisfied. You can act with kindness and generosity without allowing others to exploit you. Just understand that you can’t please everyone all the time. So even though I know just how difficult it is to say “no,” your life will improve when you learn how to say it.