“In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”― Aesop, Aesop’s Fables
‘Traditional’ probably isn’t a word anyone would use to describe me.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of my life, it is that breaking away from the perceived ‘norm’ can be difficult. But I’ve also learned that living life a certain way just to please other people is nothing short of a death sentence.
Thankfully, I learned that lesson relatively early on in life.
Living My Life to Please Others
As a younger man, I did everything I could to live like everyone else thought I should. This gained me a small bit of approval from my elders and peers (which I craved for the temporary feelings of happiness and inclusion it provided), but it ultimately filled me with emptiness on the inside.
The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t being true to myself—and as a result, I ended up bitter, resentful, and angry toward everything that my ‘normal’ life had become.
Eventually, I hit emotional rock bottom. I found myself so disappointed and disheartened at my existence that I could barely summon the energy to get out of bed in the morning.
In my mind, I was quickly running out of reasons to continue living. Any shred of happiness that I had once possessed was gone. This confused me, because I was making decent money, and had what most people would consider a ‘good’ life.
But it all felt forced, empty, and meaningless.
The problem was that I wanted something different. But other people in my life encouraged me to live the way they thought I should live—and I found myself second-guessing my own passions and ambitions when this happened. I wanted them to be happy with me. I wanted respect and admiration from my friends, family, and community.
I wanted their approval.
But in trying to please them and make them proud, I was effectively abandoning everything that meant anything to me. Instead of living my life and finding my own way, I had become a clone. My life had become a carbon copy of the status quo, with nothing original or different to set it apart from anyone else’s.
There was nothing left in it for me. I felt misplaced—like my life wasn’t even my life anymore.
Letting Go of the Need to Please Other People
So about 5 years ago, I made a decision to change my life. But I soon learned that I could not become my true self without letting go of my deep-seated need to please other people.
This was surprisingly difficult for me—but I quickly learned that breaking away from this mentality and living life on my own terms could be as liberating as it was stimulating.
I also found that doing so enabled me to love myself more—which also made me better at loving other people, despite our differences.
I quit my ‘safe’ construction job to become a freelance writer. This got me away from a work situation that felt hopeless and allowed me to pursue something that I cared about.
I rejected materialism, and my family (my amazing wife and two children) and I began to practice minimalism. This completely transformed the way we spent money and managed our possessions.
My wife and I had both come from extremely religious backgrounds—but over the course of our personal transformation, through our studying, we learned that we didn’t believe the same things that our families believed. Bringing this into the open caused a hailstorm of condemnation and disapproval from the religious people around us. But it also allowed us, for the first time, to live openly and to be true to what we believed—and this brought us a tremendous amount of happiness, peace, and confidence.
My wife and I both came out as non-monogamous to our friends and family. Once again, we were met with judgment and disapproval. But this decision allowed us to be open about who we really were as humans. It also showed us who our real friends were, and gave us the self-worth and self-confidence we needed to be the most natural and authentic versions of ourselves.
These changes (and others) led us from a life of confusion, endless repetition, and personal emptiness, to a life of intentionality, passion, and ultimately… self-fulfillment.
But it wasn’t always easy—and we quickly learned that we had to leave behind our concerns for trying to please others in order to become who we truly wanted (and needed) to be.
Lessons From Trying to Please Others
Over the course of my life, I’ve learned many lessons pertaining to this struggle. But when it comes to trying to please other people, here are the three that stick out to me as the most important.
Lesson 1: You only get one chance at this life
Your life is far too important to spend living to please other people. Yes, we should love others, conduct ourselves peacefully, and do everything we can to maintain positive relationships. But never, under any circumstances, should we allow the mere opinions of the people around us to dictate how we live our lives.
Be the ‘you’ that you truly desire to become. Live life on your terms. Take the chances that you want to take, and become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.
Lesson 2: People who judge other people are often unhappy themselves
Open-mindedness and acceptance are generally the signs of a genuine, authentic, and intentional life. On the flip side, judgment and closed-mindedness are usually symptoms of a life devoid of happiness, self-worth, and idealistic integrity.
By this logic, trying to appease the closed-minded people around you is akin to cutting off one of your own arms just because everyone else decided to do so.
Don’t restrict yourself based on the limited viewpoints of the people around you, especially when you find yourself trying to please others at your own expense. Stop forcing yourself to overlook your own potential. Don’t allow the opinions of other people to keep you from living the best and most authentic life possible.
It’s your life—and if people don’t agree that you have a right to make your own choices (and encourage you to do so), then you would probably do well to stop listening to what they have to say.
Interestingly, I noticed that when I stopped living to please other people, a lot of my friends ended up rejecting me. But I also noticed that new people began to show up in my life—new friends who were also authentic, real, and genuine.
I now have an amazing, incredible network of friends in my life who are open-minded and accepting of me for who I am—and I now have a greater sense of community in my life than I’ve ever experienced before.
Lesson 3: At the end of your life, you’ll regret not living the way you really wanted
This is probably the realization that has given me the most courage. I never want to end up on my deathbed wishing that I had done something differently. I never want to look back and feel that I missed out on life because I was too afraid to take a different path.
When I reach the end of my journey in this world, I want to look back and know that I lived my life to the fullest extent possible. I want to know that I left nothing to chance and that I seized every possible opportunity.
But most of all, I want to know that I wasn’t held back by fear.
I want to look back on my life and know, without a doubt, that I was strong enough and brave enough to live on my own terms—regardless of whether or not the people around me disapproved.
What lessons have you learned about trying to please other people? I would love to hear about them and learn from your experiences as well… so please feel free to leave a comment.