Curing the Disease to Please

Twelve favors in two days. That’s what was asked of my friend by a variety of people—a whole dozen favors, both personal and professional, in 48 hours.

Under normal circumstances, the requests wouldn’t have made her pause. But unbeknownst to each person asking a favor during that stretch, my friend was sitting in the ICU with her son.

Suddenly, she found clarity about just how much she gives to others—and the amount of time and energy it takes away from her own life and priorities.

Many of us suffer from the disease to please—wanting to help our friends, family, and colleagues because we’re capable and don’t want to let others down. We end up putting their needs before our own, but at what cost? Professionally, your need to please may be slowing your growth, because you don’t sift out the unessential projects from the essential or delegate the work to others. Personally, you are probably missing out on important time to unplug for self-care or plug in with family and loved ones.

The good news is, it’s fixable. Here are three steps to curing the disease to please:

  1. Write a To-Don’t list. We all have to-do lists in various forms, but do we know what we “don’t” want to do, and do we courageously set the boundaries required? An acquaintance of mine recently asked me to have lunch. I thanked her for the invite, told her I don’t do lunch, and offered another option that I would be willing to do. Being clear about what you “don’t” do in advance of an ask can set you up for pleasing less and being true to what matters to you.


  1. Start with a baby step. Pick one project, meeting, or work situation where you know you’ll be called on to save the day. Figure out who you can delegate this project to, and boost their self-esteem in the process. (People want to be entrusted to do good work. Let them.) Another option, if you feel you must say yes to a project, is deciding what other project you can delegate to clear it off your plate. It’s a win-win—lightening your workload while empowering someone else to shine.


  1. Block out time on your calendar just for you. A client of mine just told me that due to FOMO (fear of missing out), she has one free weekend between now and the end of June. She doesn’t know when she’ll have time to take that yoga class or dance lesson she’s been dreaming about. When you are intentional about self-care—setting dates for you to plug into you—you are far less likely to reach burnout.

It’s often defining life moments that teach us lessons. Here’s my challenge to you: Don’t wait until life forces you to take a timeout to recognize you’re suffering from the Disease to Please. Assess today whether it’s a problem. And if it is, start solving it now. Because life on your terms is always your best life.

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