Since childhood I’ve been walking around with a big old character flaw. Confession time (though it’s no surprise for most) – I’m a serial people pleaser. It came up as a red flag on a recent psychometric test. Alert, alert, potential candidate likes to be liked. By everyone. No matter how hard you try to only tick the positive attributes they figure you out. So yes it’s true. I actively seek out approval from my peers, and complete strangers. I’m sorry. And my favourite word is sorry. I’m with you – it could be construed as needy.
At school I was the goody two shoes who never put a foot wrong, apart from a little fracas with a beanbag in the library, but that’s another story. At work I’ve always needed praise to thrive. This is not ideal as clearly you’re always going to come across people in life who, for whatever reason, don’t warm to you. Then you feel a little bit broken. Like the job where the entire Paris office took a dislike to me, probably due to my sweet milky tea personality and my allergy to confrontation. Our awkward interactions left me weeping into my pink motorbike helmet, as I was swept through the breathtakingly beautiful streets of Paris.
It’s often said that as you get older you develop a sturdier skin, that you stop caring so much. I’m brushing against 40 but I see no sign of that yet. It doesn’t help that we’ve chosen to live in an area where caring what people think is apparently a prerequisite. My husband jokes that in our quintessential Surrey village people walk with their heads locked at ninety degrees to inspect the houses. When new people visit our humble abode nestled between the mansions, I find myself apologising for the worn carpets and lurid curtains we haven’t yet updated. Why? I know they don’t care. But I do. My five year old has even fallen victim to this pandemic, complaining that we live in half a house and that he would very much like a whole one!
Let’s not forget the parenting seal of approval too. That constant need for reassurance from others that I’m not totally messing up my kids. That I’m making positive parenting decisions. And there’s the whole am I good mum because I choose to work worry. I overheard a group of mums just this week shaming a fellow mum for daring to complain about her demanding career. This is what we’re up against. No wonder we’re a bit unsure of ourselves.
I wish I could channel my oldest friend’s attitude to all of this. She’s never ever cared what others thought about her and her choices, with a conviction that I can only marvel at. Unwavering in her beliefs. She reminded me just the other day not to spend precious time worrying about what others are doing or thinking. Easier said than done.
Deep down I know I should feel more secure in myself. I’ve led a good little life so far, embracing challenges and adventures. I’ve never shied away from change. We have a happy home, so what if it’s a half a one with never-ending damp issues and a resident slug. The boys appear to be growing up fine with their nerdy love for wires and gadgets. And I’m about to enter an exciting new chapter work wise.
But I know I’ll be looking around on day one in the office for signs of approval.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to manifest the carefree spirit of that old woman from the poem I used to recite at school shows. The woman who wears purple with a red hat that doesn’t go. Like her, I’ll spend my pension on brandy and go out in my slippers in the rain. And I won’t give a monkey’s what people think.
Until then it’s work in progress.