Making it work

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.

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    1. Thanks Jae! It is so true! I used to take actions with others opinions in mind, and it took me a while to train myself to go inside and see how I felt about things. It is work at first, and feels awkward, but it pays off in that I don’t feel resentful when others aren’t happy.

  1. I am a people pleaser too. As a stay at home mom my entire focus was to make everyone in my family happy all the time. Of course, this was never the case. As I’ve aged I have started to strive to make me happy, regardless of others. It is not easy but I work on this everyday! Sometimes there’s blowback but at least I’m trying. Your post resonated with me so strongly. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks Phyllis, I was the same. I wanted my husband and daughter to be happy all the time, and worked hard at making that happen. But it seemed the harder I worked the more unsatisfied that they became. It was my doing, in that I wanted them to be happy so that I would feel successful as a wife and mother. Once I let go of that, and started to allow them to just be people it seemed to go smoother for me. It isn’t perfect, but focussing on myself has made me feel better anyway! : )

  2. Hi Peta. My husband and I are both people pleasers. I hesitate to say we’re recovered as we both had a lifetime of practice, but as we’ve removed the toxic people from our lives, and have had time to talk and evaluate ourselves during retirement, we both are getting better. Thanks for sharing this very relatable post. I finally was able to follow you on Instagram. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Thanks Christina! My husband and I are the same. We always try and make everyone feel ok, and keep conversations going. We, like you, were a magnet to toxic people who seem to take advantage of our desire to have everything be ‘nice’, and it is hard but getting rid of the those toxic relationships frees up so much energy to do creative things! So glad that you and your husband are on a better path. It is hard but necessary to protect our boundaries!

  3. Oh Petra, you are such a wonderful writer and profound thinker. Honestly, I have been a people pleaser at times too, and you are right that you need to start with yourself… and so do I! I am always my most fulfilled after creating something (for me that is writing). This is just brilliant! Thank you!

    1. Hi Amy, I feel the same way. I feel the most at peace and connected to the world when I am creating something. At this point in my life it is my writing and art, but when my daughter was young I felt a connection by being her mother and that felt very creative to me.

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