“Let Me Get Back to You About That”: Some Advice from a People Pleaser in Recovery

The subtitle is misleading, actually.

I’ve been a lifelong people pleaser and probably always will be.

Don’t get me wrong: I know who I am and am not remotely reserved when it comes to expressing my opinion, but I love for people to be happy and to live their dreams and will do almost anything to make that possible.

My people-pleasing, though, has become selective. Back in the old days–before I quit the 9-to-5–I was more than happy to give my right arm if you asked, regardless of the reason.

Shortly after I was promoted to the assistant director of a mental health agency at the tender age of 23, I found myself going home angrier than ever at the end of every day.

How was it, exactly, that I’d gone from a therapist with a full caseload to an intake coordinator with a full caseload, to an intake coordinator with a full caseload and marketing responsibilities, to a middle manager with no clear job description AND all the foregoing responsibilities? (Oh, by the way, the increase in responsibilities did not result in an equivalent increase in cold hard cash). Didn’t becoming a manager mean you could begin to slough off the slop work to some line level employee?

My boss didn’t bat an eye as she told me the reason: “You always say yes.”

Note this as a “Eureka!” moment in the book of Julie’s days.

Or a “Duh” moment. Call it what you like.

As I sat in the typically unproductive weekly meeting with my boss known as “supervision,” I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: “Eight words,” she said. “Let me get back to you about that.”

Velda went on to explain that almost no one needs–or even expects–an immediate answer to a question that involves a serious reworking of responsibilities and plans. “In fact,” she said in one of those hard-to-listen-to moments, “people kind of lose respect for you when you always say yes. Especially when you do so right away.”

I was still turning that one over in my mind as she stared at me for 20 seconds with a long, searching, and–can I say, self-satisfied?– look that said “I’ve been using you this whole time!”

Since that day, I’ve become much more thoughtful about saying “Yes,” “No,” and “Let me think about it and get back to you.” I try to say “Yes” only when I know immediately and completely that what I’m being offered or asked truly resonates within me. I try to reserve “No” for those moments when I know, instinctively, that an offer or request doesn’t at all fit with who I am. And the magic words… they’ve come in handy. A lot.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Share your experience in the Comments below.

Photo: Brayan Collazo Alonso

What was that you said about lemons and lemonade?

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Over the course of our lives, we hear hundreds of kernels of advice packaged up into pithy, well-worn adages like these.

You can probably reel off 10 of them without thinking.

Like stereotypes, these sayings endure for a reason.

But also like stereotypes, there comes a time when we have to just cut loose and live according to our own instincts and insights rather than the well-meaning advice that others offer.

Just this week, I had an encounter with an editor that left me thinking. I’d pitched him an article idea a couple months ago and initially received a cool reception. My first impression of the editor was negative–not because he wasn’t interested, but because of his lack of professionalism and his confident assertion that every story about my subject had already been told. I set aside my gut response, though, wanting to be convinced by a friend who knew him that “that’s just his style.”

With the friend’s advice, I recrafted the pitch and the editor rubber-stamped the idea. I wrote a draft, sent it in, and waited for a couple weeks–during which he was “really busy”–for some feedback. After reading the draft, he made suggestions that would have changed the piece completely. If I agreed to the changes, it would be his piece, idea, content, and style. If I stuck to my guns, it would be my piece. But, he hinted, if it was my piece, he wouldn’t publish it.

I sat with his recommendations for a month, mulling over whether giving in was worth it. A couple of friends urged me to revise– My piece would appear in a heavy-hitter publication!; The editor is an important person to know!; If I screwed this up I may never have a chance to pitch the publication again! What if I burned this bridge?

What IF I burned this bridge?

Life would go on.

When I quit my full-time 9-5 job four years ago, I realized that there are really only a couple of criteria I need to apply when making any decision: (1) Will my decision kill me? and (2) Will it hurt the people I love most? If the answers to these two questions are “No,” I’m fairly confident life will go on, burned bridge or no.

I sent the editor a message saying I’d chosen not to revise the piece and would understand if he, in turn, chose not to publish it. True to the character he’d shown so far, he sent a snippy, unprofessional reply, saying that indeed he wouldn’t publish it. He added he expected that if I continued to be resistant to changes, I’d have a short, unproductive career as a writer.

Oooh…. I was so worried I opened a new bottle of wine and toasted to the only adage that’s ever served me well but which I ignored for years: “To thine own self be true.”

Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo (and no, those aren’t lemons. They’re passionfruit. And I didn’t make lemonade. I made passionfruit cocktails.)