3 Things I’ve Learned About Trying to Please Other People

Please other people

“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.

35 thoughts on “3 Things I’ve Learned About Trying to Please Other People”

  1. Loved your article! My husband tends to “rain on my parade” about ideas I come up with for living a minimalistic and simple life. Lately, I just go ahead and implement my ideas even knowing that he will ridicule me and think I’m crazy. On the weekend, I put up a tent in the back yard and created a “me” place with a mattress, blankets, fluffy pillows, a rocking chair and end-table. It’s absolutely wonderful. Do I care that I’m 53 years old and doing fun things like this? Not a bit!

    1. Hey Yvette, I’m so happy that you liked the article! Yes, minimalism is very close to my heart :) It’s more efficient and allows me to use my resources more intentionally–which is awesome. I love the tend idea! I love the idea of getting closer to nature and experiencing things in a more ‘raw’ and ‘naturalistic state’, and being outdoors really contributes to this.

  2. I considered myself a people pleaser since I was a kid but as I grow older, I learned that you can’t please everybody and I learned to say no in stuff they want me to do or to give for them. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thea, I can completely relate! I have spent far too much of my life being a people pleaser. Kudos to you for realizing the truth and making choices that are better for you! And thanks for reading :)

  3. Loved this article! I’m independent and have a strong personality so I rejected the idea that I was a pleaser for many years. Now in my 40’s I realize that my home life growing up was nothing but chaos and as a result I made many choices in life that were an attempt to ‘just seem normal.’ In the end though I can’t square the blandness with the inner me. Changing my carefully built, good life isn’t easy but your journey is inspiring.

    1. Hey Elly, I’m glad you liked the article! I can certainly relate… and you are right, change is not easy, but it is definitely worth it! We must change as we grow–that’s how we become better and make our lives better :)

  4. I love this. Especially this point: “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.” It’s important to realize that the people who aren’t going to accept you aren’t truly your friends. And it’s not worth sacrificing yourself and what you want for those people.

    1. You are so right! I’m glad you liked the article. Friendship is one of the best things that we can put effort into in this life, and it is always encouraging to hear that people are thinking about it from such an enlightened point of view!

  5. This article hit close to home for me. I feel like all my life I have struggled with balancing my people pleasing ways with my need to be unique.
    Lately I have been just doing the things that make me fulfilled and happy. Because, like you said, at the end of the day being happy and true to yourself is really all that matters. You don’t want to have any regrets.
    Great article!

    1. I can relate Zoey! I have also struggled with these things. I think we all do, to a certain extent. I’m glad to hear that you are thinking about it though, and so glad to hear that you have been doing things that you find enjoyable and fulfilling! Keep it up, and keep being yourself! :)

  6. Great article!! It’s so sad to realize that I was a people pleaser because I thought pleasing people would make them happy and that would make me happy or like me more but oh my was I wrong! Learning my lesson the hard way

  7. Great article Joshua!
    People pleasing was definitely a ruler in my life for many years. I had to learn how to handle the emotional hangover of experiencing the disapproval from others when I stopped doing what they wanted. It became easier with time when I’d experience the freedom and lightness in doing what I really, in my heart, wanted. I think tapping into that power gave me the strength to shake it off.

    1. Hey Lorena, I completely understand what you mean by emotional hangover! In fact, I use that exact phrase sometimes!!! :) I’m glad to hear that you have experienced a taste of that freedom though. It’s so empowering!

  8. Hi Josh,
    I grew up with a belief in seeking approval and looking outside for inner peace. It led me down a path of unworthiness and lacking self belief. But I turned it around through making conscious choices and being mindful about how I spoke to myself. My inner voice is such a powerful friend or foe.

    1. David, you are very correct! Our inner voice is what will eventually carry us to success or drive us to failure. We must love ourselves first, and we must do it well. If we don’t love ourselves, we will never find balance. I’m happy to hear that you are on a more positive path now! You deserve to be happy my friend! :)

  9. Wow…what a great article Josh…I resonate with what you said in the post. I too was raised in a highly religious household and following the crowd became my way of life as well. I found that as I continued my people pleasing my soul became more and more void…it felt as though I was lying to myself and in truth I was. There came a day that I had to look myself in the mirror and answer to my authentic self. I did that and incurred the disfavor of my family and many of my friends. Like you I found other friends that turned out to be my true friends and I have since felt liberated. There is irony with those that oppose the norm because it is those exact people that change the world. Nothing ever gets done by falling in line and not questioning a damn thing. Thank you for your post and keep up the great work!

    1. Griff, I feel that I understand. The religious baggage can be a killer in the beginning! I hope that more people will do what you did and look themselves in the eye for a moment of honesty. I am not necessarily anti-religion–but I believe in being true to ourselves, and I believe that if more people had the courage to be honest with themselves and to go against the crowd, we would live in a much better world! Thank you for your comment :)

  10. Your article is very inspiring.I can relate to your article in so many ways.Currently even I am going through this phase where I am doing things just to get others approval.I am just so sacred of standing out by doing something differently.How did you do it?How did you stop caring about what others think?Do you think it’s possible for a person like me who was always thought that one should live according to society’s rules?

    1. Thank you, Anitha! The process of changing my life was a slow one. I took it one day at a time. More than anything, I feel that we need to love ourselves. I had to let go of a lot of guilt from my past, and realize that I don’t owe anyone anything. This is my experience. And your life is yours. That is sacred. You deserve to live your life on your terms. Your life does not belong to anyone else. You deserve to make it whatever you choose to make it! And yes, it is definitely possibly. It is possible for anyone. :)

  11. Thank you Josh for writing this great article! I can relate in so many ways, except the positive parts. I’m doing everything I can to please others,thinking that that’s what makes me happy. But deep inside I know that it’s eating me up from the inside. At least I know that I have to do something about it, and thanks to you I’m now even more motivated to do so!

    1. Else, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I am so happy that my words have had a part in inspiring you. Please just don’t forget as you move forward that you deserve to love yourself. This life is yours, and you deserve to make it exactly what you want it to be. You deserve to be happy as much as anyone. :)

  12. I appreciated this article. Pleasing others has been one of my biggest flaws in stunting my growth as a human being. It was a very high wall through most of my life and impeded my progress. So, I can definitely relate to others with this same obstacle.

    1. It is something that we all go through, I’m afraid. I’m happy to hear that it sounds like you are moving forward though, and that is what really counts! Thank you for reading and commenting :)

  13. Great article Josh! Thanks for sharing. I have been a people pleaser for most of my life, always going out of my way to make others happy even if it meant neglecting myself at times. Some people do appreciate all that you do for them. Others will try and take advantage of you if you let them. As I am getting older, I am learning to focus more on myself and my own happiness and doing things that I enjoy. Also, staying positive and keeping my spirits up and living an active and healthy lifestyle. Life is good and I am thankful for many blessings! Blessings to you.

  14. Excellent article. I have tried to help a lot of people and end up hurting myself. Though I haven’t stopped helping people, but now I know my boundaries. I stay within my the boundary, so I don’t get hurt anymore.

  15. Great article Joshua! All my life I have also been a people pleaser and it made me so unhappy. It took another divorce for me to wake up and change my ways. I’m slowly getting there.

    1. Virginia, I’m sorry that you have had to go through such difficulties! But I would be willing to bet that they have made you a much more enlightened person. We are all moving slowly :) One day at a time ;)

  16. Thank you very much for this Josh! Your article really resonates with my current situation. It’s empowering to gain awareness about the type of approval we seek, and then decide if we keep seeking it or move forward without it! Thanks!

  17. I love your article and happy I found you. I am going through a situation with family members cause they want me to do whatever they say. I’ve been fighting them for years. They won’t allow me to live my life the way I want to. Every time I try there’s a problem. And my mother is the head of all problems. she thinks I should do what my family says. She says I am the reason I have all these problems with family members cause I don’t do what they say. She says I have to be around the family that gossips about me for the holidays so I won’t have any problems with them. That makes no sense. I’m a 37 year old women. I live my life the way I want to.If I don’t feel like being around certain peole that are negative and don’t want to see me do well then thats my choice. I don’t care if they are family. They are usually the ones who treat you the worst. I’m tired of them. I want to be in peace during the holidays not annoyed.

  18. Thank you for writing this article. I myself grew up in a conservative Christian family and for many years I went to church thinking I was Christian but deep down I knew it was not what I truly believe. I stopped going to church and I feel so much more true to myself. My family chose not to talk about this and instead avoid it. It takes lots of courage to explain it to them and I know I need to do so, but I don’t know how to discuss this with my family as it disrupts the status quo. How did you explain it to your family without damaging the relationships?

  19. My god, I saw myself through this…and it’s amazing that, even to this day (and recognising this), I still people please…but then, bad habits die hard right;-)
    The thing is, people pleasing has almost wasted my youth, so these days I keep myself young in an attempt to salveage the youth I have left. The good news is that I have learn’t so much while trying not to people please, and am now slowly applying this in my life. It’s almost like you have extra motivation.

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