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Week 5 People-Pleasing and Reputation Management

This week, we are focusing on a spin-off issue around navigating the demands on your time, energy, and attention. Four common issues arise that side-track us. 1. People-Pleasing. 2. Reputation Management. 3. Self-Judgment 4. The Procrastination Habit. Let’s start with the first two.


People-pleasing for physicians sounds so nice, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with it? I think the answer lies within the definition. If you love to serve and make others’ lives better and do so in alignment with your purpose and priorities, you’ll feel rejuvenated and fulfilled. Even when you are incredibly busy, it will activate your tend-and-befriend stress response, increasing oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. This is not people-pleasing. It’s serving.


If you engage in an activity for the sole purpose of managing others’ emotions, you will build up resentment. It may appear kind and giving but it’s at the sacrifice of your values, goals, or priorities. This puts a tremendous tax on your finite energy reserves.


Actually, if you really examine people-pleasing from that second explanation, it is the opposite of “kind.” You want others to think you want to do something, when you really don’t. We call that misleading, lying, or frank manipulation.  Let’s stop putting a glossy layer of “nice” on it. If the other person knew how you truly felt but you were misleading them, how would they feel then? It also isn’t kind to yourself. And when the resentment has drained you of your reserves, those closest to you will also be affected. As Brené Brown says, “Direct is kind” – to everyone, including yourself.


I’d like to point out, when you examine your motives, pros and cons, you can still serve from a team-player vantage point and feel good about it. A good practice is to comb through the various, even opposing, emotions and thoughts you have about a decision. Look at all the motivations. Then decide from a pure place. There really is no room for “shoulds”- let’s start by losing that word and concept.


The second less adaptive motivation of engaging in a project or task involves an over-emphasis on reputation management, a close cousin of people-pleasing. Here rather than trying to control others’ emotions, you are trying to control their thoughts about you. Excessive concern of what others think, leads to endless edits and replays and, in turn, to stress, anxiety and negative self-talk.


It’s completely normal for us to care what others think. Not belonging threatened survival for our ancestors. We are also socialized to be overly concerned with others’ opinions of us. During the medical training process, we lose ourselves a bit – maybe even more so in family medicine as we rotate through various specialties.


When I coach residents, there is so much tied to making sure that they make a good impression to get a good evaluation. The point of challenge I offer is “What if you focused on being proud of how you are engaging, growing and learning AND because of that, you get a good evaluation? Not because you tried to ascertain what each attending was looking for and then tailored your behavior toward that.” It removes feeling like a chameleon for others’ impressions, lessens the pressure, and helps you enjoy the process more.


I’m not saying we should become self-centered arrogant types that fail to take responsibility for our actions and say things like “It’s just who I am, take it or leave it.” We’ve seen that play out in the public sector to the extreme recently. There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward publicly, professionally, and even personally. However, you want to act in a way that resonates with your internal compass instead of your assumptions of what others want you to be. You are already amazing. You made it (or are making it) through training and you invest in others. Some people will be drawn to you and others not as much. I love the meme that says “You can’t please everyone, you’re not a taco (or pizza or chocolate, etc).”


What would it be like to stop feeling the need to prove yourself? What would it be like to be proud of how you show up, and let people own their own perceptions of you? Sincerity in presence is underestimated anyway. People are tired of airbrushed versions of others; they desire genuine humanity – in all its messiness.  


Write down all the fears you have of what would happen if you focused on being your best self without worrying what others are thinking. Then, be an objective reviewer of your concerns. Pretend you’re reading what a medical student wrote or perhaps your sibling or best friend. What is really true? What is the result of always focusing on how others view you? How much can you really control others viewpoints? What are the downsides to living in that manner? What do you want to change?


Okay – go live in authentic service, putting your best foot forward without the unnecessary mental burden of people-pleasing and impressing others.  In other words, you do you. “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You,” Dr Suess. Don’t rob the world of who you were made to be. 


Next week we will tackle how self-judgment and the habit of procrastination also hamper making your best decisions for how you use your time, energy, and attention. 


Have a joy-filled week!  Tonya


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