By Olivia Leveridge |

I am a recovering people-pleaser. 

While praise and kind words can make anyone feel good, I often find myself depending on validation from others to function. I often suffer from not being able to say no, feeling responsible for other’s emotions, and going to unreasonable lengths to avoid conflict. 

Balancing my education and social life by deciding how to best prioritize my schedule has always been a struggle for me. I know that I can’t go dancing on a Thursday night until 2 a.m. and wake up for my classes on Friday. But, because my friends love it and because my family is excited that I am having fun, I consistently choose to participate. The fear of letting down my friends or my family worrying about my social life drives me to say yes every time. 

When thinking about it logically, my friends might be sad I cannot go, but they would still have fun. As a result, my parents would be happy with my choice to focus on school. In the moment, however, it is a completely different story. I put aside my own well being to ensure that those around me are happy.  

In my experience, no one ever openly discusses the reality of a people pleaser’s lifestyle: in the end, it is a miserable way to live. 

Since high school, I have taken other people’s expectations for me and labeled them as my own. The belief that I would be happy when someone was satisfied with my efforts was what I found identity in.   I lost myself in my attempts to live for other people’s opinion. Until recently, I honestly did not know who I was. It wasn’t until I seemingly lost everything that I realized I had a problem. With no sport, club, person, or anything to find validation in, I had to rethink my identity.   

Identity is where the root of the people-pleaser dilemma rests. What people thought of me mattered more than what I thought of myself. Their impressions of me gave me my own identity. Being a people pleaser was a way to hide and ignore the fear that I was not good enough.  

Questioning if I am enough is something I still struggle with today, and I am sure that I am not alone. I know that discovering identity is a shared college experience and that everyone is learning new things about themselves. It is important to recognize that learning can sometimes only happen through rejection or failure. As someone who greatly values what people think of me, this can be devastating. In moments like these, I want to stop trying to live with my raw self and flee back to the security of seeking affirmation from others. 

We all have choices to make when it comes to defining who we are. I say I am a recovering people pleaser because I have chosen to make a conscious effort to put these thoughts to rest every day. For example, I changed my major and started thriving by working for what I wanted. I took a step away from trying to please those back home and chose to do something that made me happy. And now, here I am doing what I love, writing! 

It is with steps like changing my major that I am learning how to exchange my stress for happiness. Recently, a friend told me that, instead of getting caught up in what people are asking of me, I should stop and consider what I want. It sounds simple, but I had never thought about it. Now, I have started doing things that make me happy. I even joined a club and a sorority purely because it’s what I wanted to do.

I am in no way encouraging people to not take on challenges or excusing defiance. There is a difference between not people-pleasing and defying authority or slacking. But if you are like me and struggle with always wanting to live up to multiple expectations, I encourage you to pause and consider what it is you want. From there, do the next right thing for yourself. What you want matters.