Soul Journaling Sessions
Soul Journaling Sessions Podcast
Is it "being of service," or is it people pleasing?

Is it "being of service," or is it people pleasing?

Journal prompts to uncover hidden people pleasing behaviors

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Your journal prompts this week:

  • How have people pleasing tendencies shown up in my life as an adult?

  • How has people pleasing impacted my career and my ability to pursue my passions?

  • What does "being of service" mean to me?

  • How can I begin to strike the right balance between serving others and taking care of myself?

Note: Apologies for the delay on part three of this three-part series on people pleasing! Our family was sick with a cold last week and I fell behind. At the top of this episode, I give a short update on the podcast, which is that this will be the last episode of the year and of Season 1. I will, however, continue to send journal prompts through the end of the year, and I will be putting the pieces in place to accept submissions for guest posts/episodes in 2024!

With people pleasing behavior reinforced and praised throughout childhood, it's hard to kick the habit as an adult. It quickly and easily morphs into new forms as we grow older. It goes from pleasing the adults around us, our teachers and our parents, to pleasing our bosses, our coworkers, our clients, our friends, and our partners.

Since we first learned this in childhood, it would be easy to blame our parents for all of this. But they were also doing what they were taught to do to survive in this world. And a lot of people pleasing is done in order to maintain stability and security, however we think we can get that. For most, that's about maintaining that steady job and source of income.

My dad gave me the bulk of my career advice growing up, and true to his Capricorn ways, his advice was mostly focused on hard work and gaining stability. He told me that the best thing I could do as an employee was to make sure my boss always looked good, and the more that I learned and took on, the more I would be needed. This was how he survived (and managed to work for the same company his entire life, ascending all the way to the top position), and so he passed on his wisdom on to me.

This wasn't bad advice. It did get me far in Corporate America (at least for the brief time that I could tolerate Corporate America). But it was a piece of advice that ensured I'd always be the one to take on the most work, that I'd always be obedient and never put myself first. It meant I didn't advocate for myself and that I failed to take credit for things I should have. And it had me always feeling like the person working the magic behind the scenes, making the big sacrifices for someone else's dreams, and that that was all I was destined for.

And while I think my dad held many similar work frustrations, he buried them away to keep the peace. It would come out a little as we joked about the frustrations of office life, and how we wished we could tell our coworkers or clients things like, "Your lack of planning is not my emergency." We'd laugh and vent our frustrations without directly acknowledging the fact that we seemed to be forever stuck on the hamster wheel. But that's just how it worked, so you had to laugh to make it through.

I really started to wake up to this miserable cycle at my last corporate job, when my boss wrote an email to me to say that we needed to do everything we could to make sure the head of our department was happy, and that making this person happy should be my only focus. In a fit of overworked, overtired rage, I screamed at the computer screen, "F*** (insert name of department head here)! I want to be happy!" I didn't understand why I had to spend my life being overwhelmed and miserable just so this other woman could feel happy and secure as she ascended the corporate ladder and off of all the hard work myself and others were doing for her. I quit a few weeks after that.

When I moved on from corporate life to work for an association that had a clear purpose and mission, I thought a lot of these feelings of frustration would go away. But the people pleasing was still there, it just took on a new form. I could see now that there was purpose in my work, but then I got caught up in the idea of "being of service."

"Being of service" gave me permission to reframe people pleasing as something noble or good. Working hard in service of my company's mission, in service of my boss, our members, our clients—this dominated my life. My boss at this job always talked about "servant leadership," which really was just another way of making sure we did everything for those we were serving while ignoring our own needs (and in some cases, common sense). It was a way of creating unrealistic expectations and huge workloads for us employees. But we couldn't complain, we couldn't not take on that extra work, because our job was to serve, in whatever capacity we were asked to.

It turns out that disguising people pleasing with "being of service" is a hard habit to kick. After I left that job, tired and burned out, I continued to do the same thing in my own business with my own clients, working longer hours and on tighter deadlines than I really wanted. I resisted creating real boundaries because again, I thought this is what it meant to "be of service."

What's frustrating is that we aren't taught how to serve others in a way that also honors us—our own capacities, our own needs, our own talents and gifts, our own health. And this is a shame, because if we burn ourselves out serving others in a way that isn't aligned with who we are and our desires, we will eventually become resentful and unable to help anyone—at least not until we make significant changes. (I think this is one of the biggest reasons people don't stay in one job for very long anymore.)

Every time I confront these people pleasing tendencies, I get a little defeatist. How, exactly, I am going to let go of what has become so ingrained into my beliefs and my daily actions?

I'm starting small. I'm starting with the little triggers that set off my people pleasing. The best example I have of a "little" trigger for me right now is an email or message from a client that comes in when I'm focused on something else, whether it is time with my child or my own passion projects.

My people pleasing ways would normally have me rushing to respond to them right away, so that no one can say I took too long to get back to them. But today, I stop myself. I don't respond right away. I do my best to not even open it or read it until I feel I have the adequate space.

The same goes for meetings and appointment requests. I used to clear my whole schedule to accommodate someone else. (During my pregnancy, I skipped going to a new parents group that could have been really helpful for me because it was during a client's preferred standing meeting time.) Now, I'm firm on the times I can and cannot do, which mostly has resulted in me not taking very many meetings since the baby was born. At first, I felt bad about this, but then I realized that if others can be firm about their times and availability, I can, too.

I'm only at the beginning, and I know I need to do more work at a deeper level so that people-pleasing isn't my first instinct quite so often. Lately, I've seen it sneak its way into my creative work, as I think of how to make what would please the most people. This is when my creative work suffers, becoming overworked and watered down, even formulaic.

And that's the thing with people pleasing—I can see the negative side effects, I can see how it's hurting me—but I'm addicted to the high of receiving other people's approval and praise. I'm addicted to that high I get when I think I'm being "of service," when I feel like I'm needed.

Because what if no one needs what I actually want to give?

And that is the fear I am confronting and dismantling now. That is the fear under my current desire to people please.

From childhood to adulthood, we're rewarded for people pleasing, so this isn't going to be an easy journey for any of us. But we have to slowly work at removing it, pulling one thread at a time, until it is no longer woven so deeply into our beings.

I invite you to explore your own line between being of service and people pleasing with the journal prompts above.

Now that we’re through our series on people pleasing, I’d love to hear how it has shown up in your life and how you are managing it. And what have the journal prompts brought to the surface for you?

While journaling is a solo practice, I want this to be a place for love and support. So, as always, share your insights in the comments below. And if you ever feel the need for additional guidance and would like me to pull a Tarot or Oracle card for you, let me know in the comments, and I’ll respond with a card and message just for you.

With much love and gratitude,


Soul Journaling Sessions
Soul Journaling Sessions Podcast
Stories and journal prompts to encourage self-study and spiritual reflection.
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Marcy Farrey