I used to love to watch “Project Runway” when Heidi Klum was the host of the show. Before Netflix, and all the streaming services, we used to buy DVDs of complete seasons of TV shows. I had the first 7 seasons of Project Runway and my daughter and I used to sit and watch them over and over again. She was in middle school, and I had just accepted a promotion to be a manager at my finance job. We both were navigating new territories in our lives, and Project Runway was our escape. The show consisted of 12 or so wanna be fashion designers who did creative challenges each week, and by the end of the episode they had to create an outfit for a model to wear and walk down the runway. There was always drama, and tears, and some really good creations, and some really horrible ones. I guess I liked the challenge of being creative under pressure, and seeing what was possible to create given limited time, materials and budget. The co-host, Tim Gunn’s famous words, ‘Make it work’ was my mantra at the time. The young designers would be exhausted, homesick, struggling and running out of time and they had to make it work, or drop out.
When I used to watch this show, some 9 years ago I was not being creative, unless you count writing in my journal as creativity. My focus at the time was trying to make being a manager work. It was so important to me that I rarely thought about anything else. There were endless problems thrown at me as a manager, so my mind was always working on these issues even when I wasn’t at work. When someone was mad at me, or I couldn’t find the answer that pleased them it would eat me up. What I didn’t know at the time was that being a manager was a challenge that I would never win. There was always going to be another problem around the corner, and there would never be a time when everyone was happy. That seems very obvious to me now, but at the time it wasn’t. I thought that there was a goal I was working towards where everything would run smoothly, and everyone would smile at me as I walked down the halls of the office. I learned the hard way, that this was never going to happen.
Yes, I was a people pleaser. But I was also in desperate need of validation from other people. I thought I wanted to please people so that they would be happy, but looking back I realize I wanted to please people so that they would like me. I wanted to please people so that they would think highly of me, and make me feel better about myself. Pleasing other people was never really about them, but about me. I wanted to please people so that I could please myself.
I was getting my fulfillment in a very round about way. I would give my energy away relentlessly to people in hopes that they would give me my own energy back. Why didn’t I just cut out the middle man and give myself my own energy? This never occurred to me at the time. I thought that my energy, my spirit, needed to be mixed with the blessings and approval of others in order to be valuable. I needed someone to tell me that I was valuable so that I could feel ok. There was nothing I created with all my outpour of energy. I wasn’t like the young designers on Project Runway, who suffered from exhaustion, humiliation, lack of resources and sleep but in the end could sit back and watch a model walk down the runway in their creation. I wasn’t creating anything. My intrigue with Project Runway was that these young designers were putting everything on the line for their dream of being a famous fashion designer. They were giving all their energy to fulfill their dream. I was giving all my energy to survive.
I didn’t do all of this to be deliriously happy, I did it all to be ok. I did it all so that I didn’t sink into a depression of self hatred and worthlessness. The small bits of praise here and there kept me afloat. If someone had use for me, wanted me around, seemed to care about me, then I felt valuable and worthwhile. But I needed a constant supply of energy from others to keep my head above water. What I didn’t know at the time was that the very thing I was giving away was the very thing that could have saved me.
I ‘made it work’ like this for most of my life. Until I couldn’t anymore. Until I had nothing left to give. Nothing left to give meant that I couldn’t give away anything in order to get something back. Nothing left to give was certain death for me. If I couldn’t give in order to get approval back, how would I survive? I would sink and drown in the waters of depression for sure.
The thing about reaching the bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up. It is the path that is chosen to get back up that makes all the difference though. I chose to change. That small part of me that related to the young fashion designers that gave their heart and soul for their dream started to grow. That part of me that envied their exhaustion, their dedication and their drive to make their creation a reality started to take on more meaning. I wanted that. I wanted that feeling. I wanted to do something that meant something to me.
Yes, I am a recovering people pleaser. But I have found that in pleasing myself I am finding the validation that I so desperately tried to get by pleasing others. And the phrase, ‘Make it work’ has taken on a whole new meaning to me. Now I make my life work for me, instead of changing it to make it work for others.