“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” ~Katherine Hepburn
I’ve realized recently that I’ve spent my life trying to please the people around me, trying to twist myself into an acceptable shape to that I can earn their love. The irony is that in doing this, I’ve managed to ensure that no one was pleased. I am not happy because I am not being true to myself, and even my most fervent efforts have not pleased those whose love and approval I’m trying to earn either because I can never quite be the person they are trying to mold me into.
I think it’s time to change my approach. If I’m never going to manage to please others anyway, I might as well at least please myself. One person pleased is still an improvement over the current situation.
It sounds like such an easy, straightforward solution. There’s just one not-so-small problem. After a lifetime of trying to please others, I am not sure I even know what pleases me anymore. My focus has been on winning the approval of others. I thought that having their approval would not only give me intrinsic value, it would also be the only thing that would truly please me.
Therefore, I have carefully studied what would please the people I care about. I listen carefully to their criticism to search for clues to ways to please them. I sift through every clue they express (verbally or otherwise) to try to understand what is expected of me. I’m always searching for that magic way of being or doing that will be enough.
But it never is enough. It never will be enough. So how do I let go of trying to win their approval as the way to please myself and instead figure out what would genuinely bring me pleasure even if no one else approves? I think the letting go of the need for the approval of others may be the hardest part of that equation. Once that is no longer clouding my vision, it may be easier to determine what pleases me simply by trial and error.
Perhaps if I can approach this as an experiment or as a detective looking for clues, I may be able to get just enough emotional distance to see what works and what doesn’t. Right now, my head is so full of messages about what I “should” or “shouldn’t” like—messages I’ve picked up along the way from all the people I’ve tried to please—that it’s hard to know if I really do like what I think I like.
The upcoming time of solitude and emptiness will be difficult, but it is going to invaluable for this exploration. This time is going to be emptiest and loneliest I’ve ever known. There will be nobody there to please or displease. No one with any power over me whom I’m trying to win approval from. Nothing I am required to do or be. I will have to decide moment by moment what draws me and what doesn’t. I will have to follow the clues to figure out what brings pleasure and what doesn’t.
I know this is an absolutely necessary step on my journey toward greater authenticity. I can’t be truly authentic without knowing what I really want and need from life.
It’s going to be one hell of a journey.