Adventures in people-displeasing
Power Through Shamelessness #1
Weeks ago I had a small “look how far I’ve come” moment.
We were by the pool of a friend’s apartment complex, filming a sketch that he wrote while the few neighbors who were around and (most important) the security guard watched us. I like to believe they were just curious, but my friend was visibly nervous about it. After all, he has to live and deal with these people.
We needed a wider shot of the pool, so I picked up the camera and tried to get as far away as possible. Problem is, there was a short fence blocking my path and I couldn’t figure out how to open the gate. So I decided, no harm in hopping, and hop it I did. Big miscalculation: the guard immediately ran toward me, wagging his finger, yelling no no no! like a disapproving school teacher.
A few years–maybe even a few months–ago, I would’ve been terrified. I would have apologized profusely, canceled the rest of the shoot, and later ruminated over worries that the neighbors and this guard would get me banned from the premises. Anyway, they wouldn’t have needed to—I would’ve stopped coming over just to avoid running into them.
(It’s important to make clear that I was in a place and situation where I could safely assume that this guard wasn’t going to physically harm me. The fear I’m talking about is purely social/psychological pain and embarrassment–a privileged position unto itself.)
But I surprised myself that day: I just laughed. I sincerely found the whole scene delightful and hilarious. I apologized (didn’t mean it at all) and moved on with my day light as a feather.
I’m proud of this moment because it marked how I’ve become more comfortable with displeasing others and less ashamed to be seen as deviant, a nuisance, or otherwise someone who’s not a “good little student.”
And yet I have a long way to go. At my goodbye party for a job I quit a few months back, people lovingly roasted me on my propensity to push back on deadlines and generally complain. And while this is a good thing–shoutout to my therapist who helped me get comfortable bitching and moaning–I still worry that they’re all secretly relieved I’m not around anymore, that having left that impression makes me unemployable there. My inner boss pipes in: “you’ll surely have to prove yourself as a happy little workhorse at your next job.”
This is what this series will be about–a collection of thoughts, doubts, and hopefully valuable tips on the journey to overcome the two human impulses that, as a recovering workaholic, make my life miserable: 1) the need to people please and 2) the craving for status over others.
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Today I don’t bring much beside this story and a link toPrice’s (who else?) advice to someone struggling to become less obedient, presenting an actionable training course that slowly builds your comfort around displeasing people (example: saying “no” without explanation, which I’ve never been able to do). And if you desire, you can graduate to building comfort around breaking laws you find unfair.
Love in the Time of Cholera describes one of its character’s secret to success as “the capacity to withstand humiliation.” That’s always stuck with me, though I’d clarify it as “the awareness to distinguish between times where breaking norms will merely bring social humiliation versus when it’s actually dangerous and/or unethical, and embracing the former as other people’s problem instead of yours.” (I’m shocked Gabriel Garcia Marquez never asked me for writing advice)
Legalities aside, I find this to be such an important and beautiful skill that lets you enjoy a broader range of life’s possibilities. It grants what I think of as “Power Through Shamelessness,” hence the name of this series.
I see shame as the common link joining both people pleasing AND status-craving. It’s the main feeling weaponized against us by authority figures. It’s maybe the central psychological barrier thatsees in entering the “pathless path”—people casting you out because you play a different game than them. It’s also the subject of a new book by Dr. Price, in what I believe is his attempt to become the first person to have two entries in the BQE canon.
I’m not sure how prolific this series will be, but I think it’s worth giving it its own title–this topic has gnawed at me since I started BQE, and I see it as central to my current personal growth. If you also struggle with setting boundaries, generally worry too much about what people think of you, or (even better!) if you have milestones of people-displeasing that you’re proud to share, please reach out. In the meantime, do read Dr. Price’s advice, and I’ll see you around on the “shameless path.”1
Paul, if you’re reading this, don’t worry: I don’t actually plan on adopting a brazen knock-off of your signature term.