The phone alarm went off today and I did a rare thing. Rather than leap out of bed like the alarm was a war call invoking a mad dash to the kitchen to brew coffee, and a hallway speed walk to the bedroom to apply eyeliner, lipgloss, and eyebrow pencil to prep for a Zoom video conference (which is the normal protocol), I slid the alarm setting to “off.” Right before I dozed back to sleep for another two hours, however, an e-mail notification popped into my line of sight. It was a client sending a list of questions/requests. For a moment I thought, will they ever remember to copy my assistant? The subsequent moment maybe I should reply now. Or just get up…ugh but I’m tired. Then I told myself this: Stop people-pleasing. Do something for you. The e-mails can wait. The next two hours I slept like a baby. And why not? I had no scheduled calls. Work (as well as client e-mails) could be put on hiatus for a bit.
If you are an entrepreneur, self-employed, or working remotely due to the pandemic, and feel stressed about being constantly available for others, professional and otherwise, chances are you have a people-pleasing problem.
The reality is you cannot be everything to everyone all the time. If you are, you will never be able to be anything for yourself– which leads to increased anxiety and later, even burnout.
It’s not easy. If you identify as purpose-forward, empathetic, or sensitive, these transitions will not happen overnight.
As I write this, an e-mail notification popped up (I know, I can get rid of these…it’s on the “to-do” list). Did it momentarily cause anxiety about replying? Did I think, should I pause my writing to handle this? Of course, I did. But in an effort to train myself to prioritize my needs, I am resisting the urge to reply.
Most things can wait. And what I’ve learned is the tendency to always reply and be in “support mode,” is more compulsory than anything else. In other words, your need to be everything to everyone is not serving them, it is a mechanism that makes yourself feel momentarily better about yourself. This ultimately can more harm than good, unfortunately.
Prioritizing your needs is not an act of neglect to your clients, business, or obligations. It is an act of self-respect.
So how do you know if you need to be better about prioritizing yourself ?
- You worry about replying to all e-mails the second they come in, versus designating set times each day to check and reply to e-mail
- No matter what you’re in the middle of (work project or otherwise) you drop what you’re doing to help someone the moment their request comes (friend, relative, colleague, client, etc).
- Time is so liquid that all minutes, hours, and days seem dedicated to tasks and support for others
- There is a sense of impending doom that could manifest as uncomfortable physical sensations including headaches and chest discomfort
- You identify as a perfectionist and type “A” personality
Look, I totally get that you want to be on the top of your game and be the best business owner, employer, employee, mom, sister, friend, etc et al you can be. Being “on” all the time is not the path to this form of success. Prioritizing yourself, on the other hand, is.
The first step to take is to consider how and why you may be falling into these habits. In my case, I have struggled with a need to prove myself as the best in all facets to feel worthy, which stems from childhood issues. With my growing sense of awareness, I have been able to improve my boundary setting, not just with others, but with myself. Boundaries are the first step in pulling back from being everything to everyone all the time.
So how do you begin setting them?
Take small steps, as I did today. If you do not have calls scheduled and you’re tired, why do you need to leap out of bed or immediately reply to that e-mail? Take care of yourself.
Ironically you will feel both bad AND good about making these moves in the beginning. Breaking free from any habit is uncomfortable. The good news is over time it will become easier and easier.
These five small steps have personally helped me drastically pull back from people-pleasing and be better about prioritizing my needs over everyone else’s:
- Using an e-mail pausing tool like Boomerang for Gmail to force yourself to check your e-mail only every four hours to once a day
- Firmly telling your significant other that you need time for yourself and ensuring they respect this request (even if it means going to another room and closing the door)
- Setting a “you first” morning ritual (this is definitely a work in progress–some mornings I sit on the balcony and enjoy my morning coffee while others I leap out of bed as I described above only to fly right onto a Zoom conference)
- Reminding clients and colleagues you have a 24-48 hour e-mail reply policy and remaining firm on this
- Positive affirmations to remind yourself of everything you continue to do for people, as you begin doing more for yourself
The last piece of advice is especially important as you may find yourself questioning your commitment to work and relationships as you begin to pull back a bit to give yourself much needed breathing room.
It’s okay. You’re worth it.