The Ironic Thing About People-Pleasing

peoplepleasing Yes man

I’ve never met anyone who isn’t a people-pleaser on some level. Even my boldest, brashest, “tell it like it is” friends are secretly hoping to find some supportive audience for their message.

Although it’s a fact difficult for me to face, I’m clearly a people-pleaser too. I want people to like my sermons, my blogs, and even my wardrobe and my car. And I still want my kids, my friends, and my boss to admire me and think I’m doing a good job.

This realization hasn’t been easy. It comes after years of declaring, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me!” But now I have to admit that I still tend to evaluate myself by how other people are evaluating me.

I’ve concluded that the ironic thing about people-pleasers is that our mission is doomed to failure. We may succeed in pleasing some of the people some of the time, but we’ll never please all  the people all  the time.

So why do we insist on persevering in this foolhardy venture? Why not just drop the façade and acknowledge that play-acting is a dead-end road, inevitably leading to frustration and defeat?

This issue came up recently when I happened to be sorting through some very old family photos. I came across press clippings from the Columbus Dispatch when I was a child actor. Even though the reviews were over five decades old, I still wanted to read what the reviewers said about my performance! Oh my…

Like me, perhaps you’re still obsessed with your press clippings, job reviews, or comments on your sermons or blogs. You’ve given countless other people the power to be your judge and jury.

What a treadmill of futility this creates. Why can’t we just do our performances before an “audience of One,” like the Bible encourages us to do?

The apostle Paul wrote that his sole ambition was to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). He said that if he was still seeking to please other people, he wouldn’t be a true servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

But even if we know better, people-pleasing is a hard habit to shake. For most of us, it’s deeply ingrained in our personality and psyche.

The Bible is filled with sad stories about people-pleasers. Adam seemed more intent on pleasing Eve than on obeying God. Aaron was so intent on pleasing the Israelites that he was willing to make a golden calf. Samson made the fatal mistake of trying to please Delilah. And although Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, he sent Him to crucifixion in order to please the religious leaders and chanting crowd.

I’ve discovered that one of the crazy outcomes of people-pleasing is that you’ll inevitably offend some people while trying to please others. It becomes an exhausting enterprise, because there’s always someone you have disappointed.

Surprising as it may seem, God is often easier  to please than people are (Matthew 3:17). Throughout His life, Jesus always sought to do the things that pleased His Father (John 8:29), and that would be a great objective for us as well.

After all, people-pleasing is an exhausting, never-ending, insanity-producing quest. We’ll breathe a lot easier when we only have One person to please.

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2 thoughts on “The Ironic Thing About People-Pleasing

  1. Thanks, Jim! I certainly needed to be reminded of this. When I really look at my day-to-day life, I’m amazed at how much of it is spent (either in thought or in action), trying to please many, many people.

  2. Yikes, so true. A very dear friend humbled me at one time reminding me that pleasing my heavenly Father is the most important person to please (by actions and in word’s).

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