For a long time, I wanted to be the perfect woman.
Okay, not perfect as in “free of error.” (I am not that deluded!) But perfect in terms that I always strove to put others first. In client service, I wanted to be the perfect entrepreneur. In my relationships, the perfect daughter or friend. In my marriage, the perfect wife.
At any given moment, I was quite good at being whomever I thought other people needed me to be. This chameleon strategy worked well for many years. People called me “a joy.” And “easy to work with.” Above all, they called me “sweet.”
The only person who did not sing my praises was me. My deepest self felt used up, rebellious and unhappy on a regular basis. But her cries always fell on deaf ears.
That is, until my business and life hit a glass ceiling.
People-pleasing helped me launch my business and my marriage, but it could not help me level up in either. My marriage disintegrated before I even noticed it was in trouble. Meanwhile in my business, I encountered potential clients who were perfect for me but who passed me up consistently in favor of coaches with subpar skills and sketchy service records. Colleagues I knew got the speaking engagements, book deals, and high-dollar clients I had always wanted.
Suddenly I became incentivized to study what really helped successful women get to the next level. How were they different from me? Were they better people? Prettier, more articulate, or more lucky? I thought for sure my research would support those conclusions.
What I actually found was that women who got the work, the audience and the opportunities I wanted—regardless of whether their skills were the highest or the best in their industry—were those women who did not make pleasing others their number one goal.
These movers and shakers knew exactly who they were. They were not afraid to speak up about what they thought made their work great, and what they really wanted in return for their services. They even were not afraid to say what bothered them about their industry, or call out clients on what was holding back their success. This did not mean they were rude or aggressive. It just meant they did not apologize for the truth, hide it or soften it.
By choosing not to please others when the occasion called for it, these women of influence established their own authority rather than waiting for it to be handed to them. Their pliability and positivity were not the source of their power; it was speaking freely that set them apart.
Based on this evidence, I knew I could fuss about being “brilliant but overlooked,” or change my communication style to attract the opportunities I wanted. I decided to try the latter, and in the process, finally kicked my people pleasing habit. Here is what I learned that changed my life:
1) Your confidence is the key to your influence.
Human beings are naturally drawn to someone who is sure of their own value and gifts. The people we do not respect are the ones who take polls on social media to find out what they are good at, or wait for others to say how great they are. When you decide what you want from the world, and what you are worth, the world will get on board your train. Maybe not all at once, of course. But over time, you will establish yourself as a voice worth listening to.
2) You have to walk your talk.
Confidence is about not just speaking your truth, but wearing it and acting it, too. When you walk into the room like you own it, everyone else will think that you do. In my experience, the people with greatest expertise are often the most averse to appearing like experts. Many wear clothes that hide their personality, shy away from the spot light and de-emphasize their accomplishments. (Been there, done that.) At the same time, they also wonder why they are left alone in the corner while others with less developed skills get invited onto the stage.
3) People want you to tell them what you want.
I used to think good communication started and ended with listening to what my client or spouse wanted and giving it to them. While listening absolutely is critical, a good listener will not only pick up on her companion’s point of view, but on the ways in which that point of view differs from her own. As a budding courageous communicator, I had to learn to address those differences head on and advocate in a loving way for what I wanted and needed. Any slight hesitation, any ground I gave to “maybes” and “ifs” immediately erodes my believability. It also destroys my ability to achieve a mutually viable solution: one that I do not regret when I lay my head on the pillow each night.
4) Self worth is the battle that will make or break your career.
When I was knee-deep in people pleasing, I thought I served others from a place of self-sacrifice. In reality my work came from a deep-seated belief that the other person was worth more than me. Their time, their desires and plans all took precedence. As a woman, I can point to cultural messages about deference and being a “nice girl” that influenced me to adopt this low self-worth and companion communication patterns. But the reality is: I chose to believe those messages. And I now choose to reject them.
People pleasing is a learned strategy that governed my business and personal communication for most of my life. But it backfired on me in so many ways—until I saw what was really going on. When I learned to speak my truth with courage, authenticity and love, I started to make progress toward my goals and my dreams.
The world is desperate for you to tell it like it is, not tell them what they want to hear.
Speak freely, and you will be surprised what happens.
Lisa England is a communication coach empowering courageous, compassionate women of influence who struggle to be seen and heard break through their communication blocks and attract their audience by speaking freely. She is also the author of the Sister Talk audience attraction guides. Visit her website or find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.