An Open Letter to All the People Pleasers

You know that scene at the end of Aladdin where Genie Robin Williams is finally free and makes Aladdin ask him for a wish… just so he can say no? Well, I’m Team Genie the entire movie up UNTIL that point. Oh you don’t binge-watch Disney movies alone in your apartment on a Thursday night? (I feel the need to point out I have friends thank you goodbye). Then let’s get to the point: I hate saying no. I HATE it. I would rather get a paper cut and then douse my hand in lemonade. I’m that #hardcore about it.

Saying no sucks for several reasons. 1) It inevitably leads to people looking at you with Bambi eyes (I can’t help it that I love Disney get over yourself), all sad and defeated because you have disappointed them. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen. I have literally lain awake at night, unable to fall asleep because the weight of the collective disappoint I have foisted upon others is suffocating me. Call me ~dramatic~ but I seriously cannot not think about these moments — usually at the most inopportune times. 2) It preys on your over-analyzation instincts that tell you said person will hate you if you say no and you kind of have the time right like you can probably squeeze it in and yes you’d love to do it great you’ll wait for that email. 3) It means you’re human and can’t do everything which often makes me feel failure-adjacent or just generally like a heap of trash.

All this to say, I am a HUGE people pleaser. Like, ginormous. Like, if you asked me to do something right now, I would do it for you because I love you and want to help you succeed and you have so much on your plate and sorry, what was your name again? As you can imagine, this leads me to my general life of running around like a headless chicken saying “omg omg omg” over and over again. Because I already have a full-time job and a busy freelance business and a social life (sometimes) and I’m an introvert so I need time to recharge by myself and omg omg omg ALL THE TIME IS GONE.

The problem with people pleasing is that I don’t know when to stop. Because people pleasing is not about weighing what you have on your plate and then making a decision to say yes or no based on the time and emotional energy available like a reasonable and sane person. It’s about saying “yes, 1000%” and then remembering you’re already tapped out on your budget this week and you’ve had a rough day and you just want to go home and be ugly in peace… but you’ve just agreed to grab a drink with this friend, then emotionally coach that other friend via text, then drive a stranger to the airport, then edit that essay for that one guy, then call your mother, then collapse in on yourself like a dying star. Leaving you with the option of canceling at the last minute (against the people pleasing code as it is not pleasing to most people) or just going through with it only to arrive at work the next morning and realize you forget to make the changes to that presentation that you were going to do with your “free evening.”

Which leads me to the true crux of people pleasing in my life: it’s always at the detriment of myself. And sure, I might be glad in the aftermath that I did that one thing for that one person because they’ve thanked me profusely (crack for people pleasers), but each little task wears me thinner and thinner (not literally IF ONLY). Until I’m so emotionally and/or physically depleted, I can’t be of help to anyone — least of all me. And so my mental state — not to mention my work, social life, etc. — fall to the wayside.

It’s also a huge problem in my dating life because it is just SO DAMN HARD to say no to someone who wants to get to know you better when you’re not really feeling it. It helps literally no one (literally not a single person) when you string someone along because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings. But seriously no judgment because I can’t tell you the number of times I have been on a fifth date like what the hell am I doing here someone please halp meeeeee. But, of course, no one bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man to assist in an exit strategy because I am a grown-ass adult who should know better than to put herself in this kind of situation by now.

So, I am currently on a quest to get comfortable with “no” and all of its empowering mojo. This starts with pausing before I answer anyone about anything — do some people just do this naturally?? Unicorns — to give myself a millisecond to check my own schedule and/or feelings. Because if I actually have the time/resources/inclination/good vibes, I get to say “yes” THANK GOD and we can all just go on our merry way. But more often than not, the reality is I probably just don’t have the time/resources/inclination/magic powers for exactly what they need, exactly when they need it. Which is where my “no” strategy comes in:


PAUSE (seriously, stop typing that email with the subject line “it’s always yes for you” and go drink some ginger ale).

  • It’s also okay to pause when faced with a request in person, even though it is much harder. Something to work up to with practice.


Think about what the person/stranger/potential life mate is asking:

  • Do you actually want to do this?
  • Do you actually have time to do this?
  • Does doing this violate your professional/personal/emotional boundaries?


Remember you can modify the request, because you are also a real person with a stake in this thing.

  • Did they present an unreasonable timeframe? Suggest an alternative because you are a boss ass b*tch who controls your own destiny (and schedule).
  • Can you only accomplish part of the task? Tell them yes to what you can do and leave it at that.


Is this shaping up to be a full “no” situation? DON’T PANIC.

  • Ease them into it (i.e., I’d love to help BUT…)
  • Remember you don’t have to present an excuse for not being able to complete their task (unless this is your boss). Especially important to remember with personal things like dating — you DO NOT owe them an explanation of why you don’t want to do something.
  • If it’s applicable, offer them an alternative (i.e., I know of a great graphic designer who has an opening for this type of work. Her email is…)
  • Try (seriously try, I know it’s hard af) to not feel guilty. You have not ruined their day. You have not broken their heart (unless this is a no to a proposal, in which case, you win). You will survive this.


It’s not as immediately gratifying as the instant “yes,” but it will save you from becoming a heap of gelatinous, overworked sadness in the near and/or distant future. I just want to slip in here at the end that it is ALWAYS okay to tell someone who you’ve previously said yes to, that you’re overwhelmed and need help or cannot finish what you promised at the exact time you promised it. This is not heart surgery (if you are a heart surgeon please do not take my advice that would terrify me). From one people pleaser to another: you need to take care of yourself — and sometimes that means putting yourself first. And yes, I’m still waiting for the time when saying “no” is fun… maybe after 10,000 years in the Cave of Wonders? I’ll keep you posted.


Are you a people pleaser? Do you have a hard time saying “no”? Tell us your experience in the comments below!