By Gregory Henn
It might seem like a pretty ridiculous set up, but I recently learned a very valuable life lesson from a sandwich…
Allow me to explain.
The other day I had gone to lunch and ordered some food to-go. Before handing me my meal, the worker repeated the correct order, but one inquisitive glance in the bag, showed me that it wasn’t exactly made the way I had ordered it. Now, I like to think I’m a pretty rational person and I understand that in quick-food services (especially during the lunch rush), mistakes happen. And so, since the visible error wasn’t anything that would have put me out completely, I said nothing, happily accepted the food as it was, and went home.
It was only after I got home though that I realized I had actually received the entire wrong meal. It wasn’t just that they had used white bread instead of sourdough; it wasn’t even close to the sandwich I ordered. I sat there in a moment of consideration. I could either take 15 minutes to drive back to the restaurant, explain the problem and wait for them to give me the correct food, OR, I could do the alternative, keep the entire matter to myself, and just eat what I was given. I feel like any normal person would have just gone right back out the door, but I just sat there and ate it.
Now the sandwich I had received was actually pretty tasty, but that’s beside the point. The POINT to all of this is that none of this would have happened if I had just spoken up in the restaurant the first moment I saw something wrong. But, because of who I am inside, I also knew that saying something would have taken a lot more guts than just keeping my mouth shut. This then, is the plight of the people pleaser.
If I didn’t know it before, I sure did realize it after this experience. I am a people pleaser and while that sometimes isn’t an inherently bad thing, sometimes it can be a truly backwards approach to life. Within seconds of realizing this, a thousand other compromising decisions filled my mind, and I realized this is something I do on an alarmingly frequent basis.
You might not immediately see how people pleasing leads to compromising decisions, so let me explain. For the people pleaser, the number one priority in any situation is making sure the other “person” is happy. This applies to friends, family, and yes, even the cashier at the restaurant. For me, going back in with a “complaint” would not have made the cashier happy and would have soured their day which would have undoubtedly caused a chain reaction of other negative actions all resulting in the downfall of civilization…in my mind.
In total seriousness though, this event was eye-opening. It made me realize just how easy it is for me to choose to settle on something rather than go for the thing I actually want because I’m often too afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings in the process. Almost providentially, I recalled the old words of a friend: “You don’t want good things for yourself”. At the time I balked at the notion, because well, who wouldn’t want good things for themselves? But the more I realized it, they were right. Rather than wanting good things for myself, my people pleasing mentality wanted good things for everyone else. As a result, my life turned into a large collection of settlements and acceptances of things that I never quite asked for, but I accepted because it made other people happy.
The problem with all of this runs deeper than just winding up with a bunch of less than amazing things though. When I people please, I preach myself a lie that convinces me: I am personally responsible for someone else’s happiness. I wrongly believe that if I’m not just accepting the things I am given, then I am letting other people down. As a byproduct of people pleasing, I often fall into the “nice guy” trap. To illustrate this more clearly, recently someone told me I was a nice guy, and used that as one of the reasons it was “OK” that I hadn’t gotten paid for doing three months-worth of work. But that’s another story for another time…
For too long I have happily received the “wrong sandwich” in life all because I chose not to speak up and cause a fuss. But in doing that, I have also sold my life short. I could have easily enjoyed all the wonderful things I had originally set my mind and heart on…if only I had found the nerve to just say something and not watch them slip away into someone else’s hands (or stomach). Now, I’m not saying that life would have always handed me exactly what I wanted, but in a way I guess I can say that I don’t know that for certain because I never took the chance to find out. What is certain though is that the more I people please, the less I actually respect my own life. The more I live under the rule someone else’s perception of happiness and not my own, the less likely I am to find actual fulfillment in my life.
Clearly, if I had brought up the error in my food order, the cashier would not have hated me. In fact, she probably would have been grateful I said something so as to prevent another complaint from the person whose food I did end up with, and they got mine. The truth of the matter is, by not saying anything I probably very likely caused someone else to be upset anyway.
When you’re a people pleaser, you strive to make everyone else happy and it feels good to do so. But I think you ultimately do it at the risk of disappointing yourself, and your life is too precious and valuable to do that.
After all, doesn’t life taste a lot better when you get the right sandwich?