A wa*** title I know, but humour me please, because we’re endlessly learning about ourselves every day (or should be, I read that if you’re not embarrassed by your actions last year you’re not growing) so I wanted to share my latest discoveries in case it might shed some light on your own behaviour, cajoling you into making small changes and perhaps feeling better about yourself.
I’ve had therapy in the past, on several occasions, some long-term sessions, other short bouts, with CBT being the most useful particularly post-trauma, and the years have seen me unravel my childhood, personality, my decisions, decisions made for me and life-patterns, revealing painful times, rejection and isolation helping me to somehow connect the dots, understanding the why and hows more, the tapestry that’s built up the picture I see today.
I like to think at 37, I know myself pretty well (the good, the bad and the ugly); I understand when my hormones disrupt my outlook, or alcohol makes me depressed, or sleep deprivation regresses me into a sub-human version of myself. I know that any one of these head f****** can gnarl and twist my logic, self-esteem, self-control and drive and that with exercise, sleep and a healthy diet, I can usually reset and start again.
This is what I know about myself thus far.
I’m a creative: an ideas factory of burning ambition, warm, loving, loyal, maternal, the life and soul of the party for the most part, until the day after and overstimulated, I fall over, Duracel Bunny-like, lifeless, all my energy spent-up, unable to process, think or speak. I burn myself up like a sparkler, shining for others, for the show, leaving nothing for myself.
I hold my hands up when I f*** up. I forgive easily. Too easily, some might say. I even forgive those no longer speak to because of their destructive actions because I forgive for myself.
I also people-please and I know why.
I attended a strict, private, all girls school growing up and was rejected by the group of girls I met in my first week, I thought would stick by me forever, going from a happy, naive girl to a friendless lonely soul with only my mum to call at lunch so as not to sit solo. That sh** stays with you, it run deep into your soul and nips at your bones, despite the therapy, despite the love at home or the best friends who came thereafter.
You never want to be that girl eating lunch on her own again.
It didn’t matter that I made other pals eventually or was pretty popular at Sixth Form then Uni, that rejection and fear is formative, it’s memorised, imprinted on you like the scratchy Joey Lawrence stickers on your bedroom mirror which remain there today, Joey still doey eyed looking at you like he loves you from 26 years ago.
That pain of ‘you’re not good enough’ makes you question friendships forever, new and old and took, and is still taking years to build back the trust you lost.
It’s why I sometimes run away from those who hurt me (when others might well stick around longer or hand out far more chances) and it’s why I never want my own kids to feel excluded by anyone.
It’s also why I people-please.
It’s why despite having multiple thousands of people following me online, I’m never quite sure why they like me.
Acknowledging this recently after reading the melancholy but utterly life-affirming and funny Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton has set me FREE (another wa*** term but I’m on a roll).
We all just want to be liked.
I’m an empath and care deeply about others (on a cellular level-all the w**** terms can be found here today and one more for luck ‘you’re welcome’) but with great compassion comes hyper-sensitivity: vital fuel for my creative work, a bit shit when it comes to the every day minutiae of life when my overactive imagination causes more fear than joy (no we won’t be eaten by a lion at London Zoo or trapped in a lift on our way there).
As a child, I remember holidaying in the med and on innocently stumbling across seeing a gypsy matriach and her many children selling carnations, I decided there and then to leave the loving bosom of my own folks on the red hot baking streets of Rhodes to join this mother, a stranger and her kids on their travels to help raise funds, becoming a carnation-seller myself. I must have been just 6. My mum had to literally tear me away from the baffled group I’d become attached to, my eyes streaming and arms flailing protesting to stay.
A born empath, then.
Every career test I’ve ever done (including those dubious ones on FB which throw in a visual face detector so you can see how you’ll look as a man/ woman/ 90 year old, and which predict your future with ambiguously corny drivel), tell me time and time again that a career in a caring industry would suit me best.
I was too squeamish and worried about death for medicine but thrived as a teacher and lecturer in my 20s in between directing and screenwriting gigs, teaching subjects ranging from English GCSE to MA Filmmaking.
I felt at home supporting my students (some from socially deprived backgrounds, the only love they told me they felt was my belief in them), and the buzz teaching gave me: the pride of being of use to others, of providing service educating but caring for others as if they were my family.
Since inhaling Dolly’s wise words, I’ve come to realise that while I love to help others, in doing so, I serve myself too. Doing so is an easy vehicle to being liked. Helping other people is not wholly altruistic and writing that admission scares me but I understand in order to feel less alone and frankly, odd af (there’s another), being vulnerable and honest is the only way.
We all want to be liked, of course we do, but I often feel guilty about the attention and praise my career receives. My dream is to divide that praise up into cake-like quarters among everyone I know, taking the onus off me while showing others I’m REALLY not self-absorbed (I’m REALLY NOT, HONESTLY) while of course garnering others’ respect and likes literally, (on social media) as I go.
I do genuinely want to share the stories of those whom inspire me (it gives me the greatest joy here) but I admittedly also want them to like me for it, in return. I want them to acknowledge that while I’m a personal brand, I’m not self-obsessed and ruthless (because I’m not, and the irony of me obsessing that I don’t want others to think I’m self-obsessed is not lost on me) but here we are and I’m being honest. Which is why you’re here.
Now, while there’s nothing wrong with any of the above, the offers to share my online space have overwhelmed me lately. I have months and months worth of guest posts waiting (and emails, messages and requests for help) due to my inability to say ‘no’ enough and thanks to my track record of endlessly, without pause, wanting to support the (online) world.
There are so many compelling stories and people I want to feature on this blog-literally thousands- but I’ve realised I cannot feasibly say ‘yes’ to all. I cannot spread myself as thinly as (vegan) butter, trying to save/ promote the world, draining every last drop of energy I might have, leaving little for anyone else who loves me and certainly not for those who have first dibs on unconditionally draining me: my kids.
After feeling wrung dry like a sock you forget to spin dry last week, I made an active decision to say ‘no’ more often or, ‘contact me in a few months please’ or ‘I’d love to feature you but my schedule won’t allow it right now’. All true words, just rarely uttered so foreign-like, as if I’d learned Mandarin overnight such was the thought of refusing others, the guilt, and the fear of letting people down or being disliked. Before, I squeezed, pushed and pulled (mostly working until the early hours) to accommodate others, until I felt burnt down such was the knitted promises I’d made.
So I’m taking a breather and saying ‘no’ more. I’m being kinder to my empathatic self, and have already, within days, felt stronger for it.
I’m slowly moving away from being a people-pleaser, relearning what it means to say, ‘sorry I can’t’ and putting my mental and physical needs first. I’ll still share people’s work here, of course I will, but now not for anything but the love of it.
Bag featured in the photo is the Vicki Bag collaboration with KeriKit. You can preorder on their site.
Buy my bestselling book in paperback or audio
My debut book is my guide to surviving and thriving at work and at home and offers insight into how to create a digital business or return to work with confidence.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum's Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home (UK 2nd Edition)