I couldn’t breathe. I had just done a front flip off a small cliff, over rotated and knocked the wind out of myself when I landed in the river. I treaded water grunting like a wild boar giving birth, waiting for the moment I could once again take a breath. All because I cared too much about what other people thought.
I grew up always struggling with being a people pleaser. Making people laugh and be happy was one of my biggest goals. I was keenly aware of what it would take to earn someone’s approval, and I would bend my behavior and speech to earn this approval whether I approved of it not. Sometimes I gave in to the struggle, others I didn’t.
For example, I spent my lunch time every day in junior high and high school in the library reading books and newspapers. This wasn’t the cool thing to do, but I could care less. I was more interested in learning about events around the world. But then there was the time that I threw an orange at mach 9 from one end of the lunchroom to the other, where it exploded like a bomb against the wall. That resulted in a month of lunch detention, which quickly escalated into six months of lunch detention because I wouldn’t sit quiet. All because I wanted my friends approval.
Another time, after reading in the library almost the entire lunch period, some friends came in with some water balloons. We proceeded to fill them up, go to the third floor of the commons building at our high school, and drop them forty feet down on the heads of unsuspecting students. Yes they exploded on their heads, and they were the big party balloons that weighed ten pounds filled with water. All because I cared too much about what a few of my friends thought.
I cheated on my vision test in grade school because I didn’t want to be the only one of my friends with glasses. I stopped playing chess in junior high so that I wouldn’t be considered a super nerd. I started a 10, 9, 8 countdown during a girl’s Jr high basketball game when there was 45 seconds left. The poor girl hurled a half court shot, only to find over a half a minute left on the clock. I have many other examples of this when I was a kid. As I grew older, however, this undue concern for what others thought never left.
The desire to please others didn’t fade away after I graduated from high school. In fact, I think that’s when the consequences start getting more severe. For example, what was I supposed to do after high school? Go to college of course! That’s what everyone told me to do. If I was going to make money in life I had to go to college. The problem was I didn’t want to be in school anymore and I hated the program I signed up for. Thousands of dollars went poof. Then I dropped out, which was wise. Unfortunately I got talked back into enrolling the next fall, and I repeated the process all over again. Thousands more went poof. I was trying to please other people.
I wish I could say that I learned my lesson. But, I enrolled in college one more time a few years later. I lasted a half a year, at which point I met my wife, got engaged and lost all desire in the world to ever go back to class. Thousands more went poof. (and not because of the marriage )
I think getting engaged and married was the pivotal moment for me beginning to care less what other people think. My wife and I met and were engaged in six weeks, much quicker than all the single people in our lives were comfortable with. We got wrath and warnings of the potential for our marriage to fail. I ignored them all. Six months later we were married, and now 8 1/2 years, 4 children later, we are as happy as ever.
Here’s 7 things I’ve learned the hard way over these past years.
1. It’s very easy for people to try and influence you, but they aren’t going to be the ones that suffer the consequences when the orange hits the wall.
2. If you’re young, don’t listen to the advice of any of your peers, as it’s mostly worthless.
3. Seek out those older than you that came into success through unconventional paths. They will be more likely to give you advice specific to your situation and giftings. They know the one-size- fits-all plan for everyone’s life is a sham, and they already rejected it. There are those of traditional paths that are well worth listening to as well, just be discerning that they are treating you as a unique individual.
4. If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.
5. People need friends that will tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Be that kind of friend. It’s hard in the moment, but it will bear much fruit over time.
6. Surround yourself with people that are worth listening to. Pick your friends carefully.
7. You are not what you do for work, or where you went to school, or if you went to school at all. You are not what you wear, what you eat or what kind of car you drive. You are not what activities you are involved with or programs you lead. You are not what kind of house or apartment you live in or how much money you make. You are not how many kids you do or do not have, what kind of food you eat or how many cats you own. You are not how much you recycle or your mode of transportation. You are not how much you weigh or how much you tip at a restaurant. You are not how much alcohol you consume or people you have sex with. You are not your athletic ability or how much you weigh. You are not the trophies you’ve acquired or the title before your name. You are not how many times you’ve messed up.
These are the skin deep prerequisites of our culture’s approval. Listen to them, and you too will find yourself out of breath, treading water and grunting like a wild board.