I'm a people person. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I'm an ENFP (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving). My top three strengths are connectedness, strategy and ideation. Corporate America loves personality tests and skills assessments, so after 12 years in corporate, I know myself. Or, at least I think I do.
I'm like a sponge, soaking in all kinds of information from the people, experiences and tools around me. I empathically pull all this in, and like a super-human computer, process it into meaningful ideas, strategies and ways to connect. This helps me solve complex problems and figure out how to bring people along on that journey. I've honed this skillset for years now, and think I'm pretty good at it. I'm a fixer. A campaigner.
Photo Credit: Paulin Malet
But there's a dark side. All this empathic sponginess can easily turn me into a people pleaser. I spent years trying to do everything I could to make everyone happy, sacrificing myself along the way. My family, my friends, my bosses, my colleagues, my romantic partners and even random strangers:
IF EVERYONE ELSE WAS HAPPY,
SO WAS I.
All that people pleasing bought me a one-way ticket to emotional burn out. Like a candle lit on both ends, or fireworks on July 4th - I burned hot and fast. I found myself virtually passing out on the weekends, needing enormous amounts of sleep. I'd stare blankly at the TV for hours. Like a flickering light bulb, I was shutting down. And I realized that for all my efforts to make other people happy (burning myself out in the process), they honestly didn't seem much better off.
CUE THE EXISTENTIAL CRISIS.
I spent so much time doing anything to make other people happy that I lost track of myself. So I had to take a big step back and think. How did I get here? Well, that's a complicated answer. As girls, we're told to sit down, be quiet and smile. Reminded that our worth is directly tied to our ability to take care of other people. And that if we don't do that, then something is wrong with us. Combining all that social coding with my ENFP ways was like pouring vinegar into baking soda. Fun for science fairs. Not for your life.
Photo Credit: Katarzyna Pe
The truth is that people pleasing isn't a sustainable life practice. It doesn't help yourself or anyone else around you. It strips you of free will, drains you of your self confidence and turns you into a "yes" robot.
I WAS A "YES" ROBOT.
I had to re-learn how to set healthy boundaries. I had to tell all that social coding to go to hell, while rebuilding my definition of personal value. I had to learn to say "no" and actually mean it. That gave me the freedom to say "yes" to things that really mattered. To use my ENFP ways to their highest potential, to move the needle on the stuff I really cared about.
My "yes" robot still lives within me - I can feel her, way back there covered in dust. I'm not sure if I'll ever be fully rid of her, and I'm ok with that. After all, she's a reminder of who I can become if I lose sight of what is most important to me. So I send her love and gratitude, because I know that's what she would do for me.