Compelled: The Metamorphosis of a Failed People-Pleaser


What drives you? What voice arouses you to get moving in the wee hours, determined to be the best version of you each day? What sentiments summon you to sacrifice momentary pleasures in the name of greater goals? What principles compel you to dig deeper, climb higher, and stretch yourself further?

For better or worse, (often the latter), my compulsion has historically come from the innate desire to please people. I grew up with an internal program to crave the affirmation of others. I possessed a burning fire to make the people in my life proud. I wanted to be somebody, in the eyes of somebody else.

I was a failed people-pleaser.

I spent the years of my youth thrusting the valuation of my own self worth into the hands of cruel masters. Peer-groups. Employers. Teachers. Church leaders. It didn’t matter who I yearned to please, because at some point, I failed them all. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t measure up. I didn’t make the grade. Ultimately, I wasn’t the material they were looking for.

To be fair, it wasn’t their fault. They didn’t ask to hold the reins of my esteem. They didn’t request to be in the driver’s seat of my self-worth. I unwittingly put them on that pedestal, seeking validation in all the wrong places. My motivation was extrinsic; and it ebbed and flowed with the quality of my relationships. I was frequently driven, but I wasn’t often inspired.

It was an insatiable drive, and a death spiral for relationships.

As a source of motivation, people-pleasing sucks the life out of you. It provides an ever-moving target, most often just out of reach, teasing you. Mocking you.

After years of failing to please others, I eventually burned out. I lost my external desire to make others proud. I stopped striving to “become” somebody, and began to settle on “being” somebody.

Now, I am a reformed people-pleaser. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I’m still trying to please people – but now I have given the power to measure my worth to the man in the mirror; and the Man upstairs.

Not too long ago a relative exclaimed “You are one driven dude!” He was amazed by the numerous marathons and ultramarathons I have run the past few years. He was impressed by the fact I had just published my first novel.

Years ago, that affirmation would have filled my tank. It would have satisfied, albeit temporarily, the desire to be somebody. Rather than savoring his comments, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

If he only knew my journey.

I’ve come to realize that our valuation of self-worth changes as we change. Our locus of motivation moves inward as we develop our own set of values, beliefs, and principles. Nowadays, I find my goals are moving beyond personal legacy, to building value around me. Instead of concerning myself with how others will remember me, I want to treasure the time I have. I’m embracing the health, talents, and relationships that I’m blessed with, and using those to build value into the lives of the people around me.

I run, not to beat a time, or to blaze a new trail, but to enjoy the outdoors, and to celebrate the ability TO run. I write, not for the approval of others, but to explore my own ideas, and then gently send them off into the world.

Instead of worrying how well I reach specific goals, I just want to live life well. I want my life to be an acknowledgement of the gift I received. To be spent wisely and well. To be shared with others.

I want to someday hear “Well done”.


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