People Pleaser to an Insane Degree

I have an exam to study for and essays to read for class and a bedroom to straighten, so naturally I've been struck with the inspiration to blog right at this precise moment. Of course when I'm supposed to have court cases and semicolons on my mind, my thoughts are drifting far, far away.

These thoughts started forming the other day, when I was walking across campus with a friend. I was describing to her a bad night I had had the weekend prior, telling her this story about someone taking advantage of my time and my desire to do good, when she started poking me in the back where my spine dips in.

I laughed, brows furrowing as confusion read on my face.

"What are you doing?"
"I'm checking to see if you have a backbone, Lauren. I don't think you do!"

I've been thinking about that ever since. She, of course, meant the comment as a joke to be taken in stride, and at the time that's exactly what it was. But you know how those seemingly innocent comments work: they burrow into your mind and throw a tantrum until you have no choice but to grab them by the shoulders and face them head-on. For the days that followed, I noticed myself taking shit from others and just allowing their comments and demands to steamroll me into a pancake, Wile E. Coyote style. I realized "maybe I don't have a backbone," and that's a realization that's taken some getting used to.

I'm starting to realize a large part of my adult identity is sacrificing my sanity and livelihood for others. It's going beyond the call of being a good employee, good customer service associate, good student, even good friend or good daughter. It's taking on another shift because I don't want my manager to be disappointed, even though I had planned a fun day off. It's smiling sweetly when a customer makes a really rude offhand comment to me, just because she can. Apologizing for things I'm not sorry for. Getting mad at myself when I have the nerve to get mad at those who have wronged me. And it's a vicious cycle, too, because acknowledging the issue brings forth the idea that I'm victimizing myself and need to stop being so whiny. But, y'know, I'm not saying that I should never have to do anything else for others, but I should probably let myself speak up when once in a while, instead of retreating to my usual line of defense (or, y'know, lack thereof).

Except on Monday night, I didn't retreat into my usual safe space of hiding and apologizing. I straightened my back and stood up for myself. And y'know what else? I did it at work, too. I talked back to a customer. I know: scandalous.

Let me paint the picture for you: I was working behind the cash register at Ulta (which, don't get me wrong, is a fun job I enjoy doing, but ultimately it is a retail position, so that sometimes only goes so far) when two younger women came to be checked out. They were probably 25-30, somewhere in there. Part of the gig as a cashier is asking the guest if he or she has a rewards card with the company, which can be looked up by phone number. Nothing new, not a new concept. But the thing is, and I'll be honest: I'm good at my job and I'm awesome at customer service. I smile, I say "hi, how are you? Did you find everything okay?" before I even bother with the rewards card. I treat people how I like to be treated when I go shopping. I figure, let's start off on the right foot.

So I'm standing behind the register and as these two women approach, I put a smile on and attempt to start off with the pleasantries, but before even half of "Hi!" comes out of my mouth, one of the girls rolls her eyes and loudly speaks over me, jabbing me with her telephone number. Wow, I thought, someone is in a mood.

In that moment, I thought about advice my mother had given me recently. My mom is one of the kindest, most genuine people I know, especially when she's speaking with strangers, but she also has a rightful amount of pride. I've never seen her willingly roll over and let someone be mean to her for no reason. And a lot of that comes with age and experience, but a lot of that is just an innate sense of worth I want to start embodying more. I remember a time when I had come home from work over the summer, venting about an awful customer who was rude to me for no legitimate reason. I think maybe we didn't have the blowdryer she wanted in stock, or something of equal (minuscule) importance. My mom shook her head, and said to me, "Y'know, Lauren, you don't have to take that. I know 'the customer is always right,' but you can and you should call them out if they're rude to you for no reason. It doesn't have to be aggressive or start this big altercation, but if you don't say anything, they think that's okay."

I think when this customer practically yelled her phone number to me the other day, I must've looked physically taken aback, because she said to me, "Sorry, I just knew that's what you were going to ask me." But it wasn't the genuine 'sorry' you utter when you realize you've been rude.

Now, I was just about to retreat into my usual habit of saying, "No, it's okay, don't worry about it!", but then I remembered the advice my mom gave me: If you don't say anything, they think that's okay. 

I swallowed hard and smiled.

"Actually," I said, "I was just going to say 'hi' and ask you how your day was going. I'm sorry if it's not been the best one on record."

The woman suddenly seemed to become fascinated with the shiny linoleum floor, as she couldn't meet my eye contact for the rest of the transaction. Ha.

Now, by no means is that a "one and done" fix. I'm still lacking a bit in the backbone department. I'm still a little bit of a wimp when it comes to owning my pride and knowing my self-worth. But I'm learning. And learning is at least a vital step. For now, add "People Pleaser to an Insane Degree" to my list of neuroses.


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