“The thought of being whoever I want is a terrifying thing because I have only ever been who everyone has wanted me to be.”
Dianna Hardy, Saving Eve

I used to be a people pleaser. To some extent, I guess I still am. Not as much as before; but the tendency is still there.

I grew up in two ‘opposing’ families in terms of faith, values, and cultural background. Since I was little, I had taught myself to be accepted on both sides of the family by being a chameleon.

I’ll be whoever they want me to be. I’ll be whoever you want me to be.

It was a safe way to avoid conflicts. A safe way of not being rejected. To feel as if I belong here and there, at the same time.

My transition into adulthood posed another question though: Who am I, really? What kind of person am I, truly? 

Most of the time, I found myself saying the things I didn’t want to say, agreeing to things I disagree with or getting caught in a situation I didn’t want to be in–simply because I wanted to please others. Simply because I was afraid of saying these things out loud:

1. I don’t know

I used to feel ashamed of saying this. I felt incompetent. I felt stupid. I didn’t know where exactly I got the idea that I couldn’t simply say these words bluntly. Maybe at school, when I learned that most of the teachers wouldn’t accept those words kindly.

Either it was a marketing term, a new band, a song, a movie title, or breaking news… I used to pretend as if I knew everything. But it was tiring, really. And I just realized that it was actually pretty stupid to pretend as if I knew everything. Because it’s impossible for us to know everything.

Not knowing about something is okay. These days, I say I don’t know when I don’t know about something. I am surprised to know that most people are okay with that.

2. I can’t afford it now

It used to be a sensitive subject. Something you would avoid discussing. Probably because most of the time, we linked our success based on the things we can afford. Wasn’t it the case? When I was a kid, I saw how the adults around me measured each other’s successes based on how many things they can afford.

It was almost like a taboo to say: I can’t afford it. Or that I can’t afford it now.

When a friend asked me out to an expensive restaurant or went on a luxury trip somewhere, I used to feel as if I have to find a way to afford it. That I have to work for it. To make it happen.

It could be that I withdrew my savings. Took the money from another account that I had allocated for something more important. Spent the money anyway and braced myself for a week of only eating instant noodles. Or I would find a kind of lie to avoid the invitation altogether.

Was it shameful to say that we can’t afford something at a particular moment in life?

One time when I was still in university, my group of friends was planning to go to an expensive cafe. And one of them responded to that, light and loud: “I can’t join you, guys. I’m broke for the week!”

We all laughed. We understood. We didn’t perceive her as if she was less than before. We’ve all been there.

Sometimes, it’s not that we’re broke. Sometimes we’re saving money for something else. Sometimes, we have more expenses to cover at particular moments. Sometimes, we ran out of lies and excuses.

So, these days, I take it upon myself to be honest and straightforward with it: “I can’t afford it now. Maybe some other time?”

3. I’ll have to pass

I used to think that I need to be a good ‘follower‘ to be accepted. That I have to say yes even if I want to say no. I repeatedly found myself in a situation I didn’t want to be in, simply because I have no courage to say no, to turn down an invitation, or to just simply say, “Sorry, I’ll have to pass this time.”

In the old days, this would mean finding myself being really sleepy and tired, couldn’t wait to go home and curl up in bed; but forced to laugh, dance, and make jokes with a bunch of friends or colleagues until midnight.

I used to think that if I wasn’t there if I wasn’t present in each and every moment, I would lose my friends. Or they might enjoy the night without me and stop inviting me altogether. I was afraid that they would look down on me, or talk about me behind my back.

My insecurities made me suffer.

But I’ve had enough of that. If suffering is an option–like what Murakami said–then I would say: “Sorry, I’ll have to pass.”

4. Actually, I have a different opinion

I learned that it was safe to be similar, and it was dangerous to be different. The best way is to be like everyone else, doing what everyone else is doing, following the majority, and trying hard to be a part of it.

This was unnatural. Differences exist in life. We are all different in many different ways. What is it that makes us afraid of being different? Are we afraid of rejection? Of triggering conflicts? Of hurting others? Of hurting ourselves?

How did it get to us? Who taught us that we’re not allowed to be different, and to embrace our differences?

I used to go for the easy way: agreeing with everything everyone is saying. Just to be on the ‘safe’ side. But it only got me trapped in a more difficult situation: because how is it possible that you agree to everything, that you agree with everyone?

At some point in our lives, we need to know where we stand. So I start learning to disagree. And to voice my disagreement better. To accept that we can agree to disagree. To feel comfortable having my own opinion. To speak up. Sometimes, it starts with a tentative stutter: “Actually, I have a different opinion…”

5. I don’t want that. This is what I want

I was raised to accept whatever comes my way.

This is actually a good thing, to some extent. The other extent is when I thought I have to accept anything that comes my way; even if I don’t want it. This includes wearing clothes I didn’t like to allow disrespectful behavior towards me.

At a certain point, it became unhealthy.

There were times in life when I didn’t even know about what I really want because I thought I should want the things other people want. I used to feel as if I was not grateful enough to say that I didn’t want something; or if I wanted something else.

I learned to be assertive. To say the things I want and the things I do not want. I tried with the simplest things: “I want to eat pasta today.” Or, “I don’t want to go to that event because I don’t find it interesting.”

I am still amazed at how liberating it is.

I realized that I used to hold grudges against certain people in my life, because I felt as if I have to do the things I didn’t want to do, only to please them. Then I pitied myself, saying: why am I the only one who needs to make the sacrifice? I ended up hating these people, or blaming them for the way they ‘make my life miserable’, for the way they ‘make me feel this way’.

Only lately I realized that this scenario happened only in my mind. The other person might not really know about this. They are not mind-readers. They didn’t know how I actually feel because I was too afraid to tell them about what I really want.

What about you?

Do you have some things you were afraid to say as well? Why do you think you were afraid of saying these things? Did you manage to overcome your fear of saying those words out loud? How do you think saying these words make you feel better connected with who you really are?


15 Responses

  1. Yess I agree this is so liberating. I used to want to please other people more than me, everytime. Or wanted to look cool knowing many things that I often turned out sok tahu. Well, I still do sometimes but I do it less often now. And that feels good, being myself.

  2. A wonderful post. So many people never reach this level of maturity, Some years ago I tried to reduce my own philosophy to ten “rules” one of which included the phrase “release the need for approval” which you have expressed better than I could even to myself.

    1. I am always amazed at how “the need for approval” is something almost everyone struggles with. It’s universal.

  3. Beautiful :*
    Regarding number 2, it reminds me of this quote from one of my fav books:
    “A man is rich in proportion of the things he can afford to let alone” – Walden, Henry Thoreau

    “The need for approval” is a basic human need, isn’t it?
    It takes self confidence and self realization to let that go, and they come with age and knowing ourselves… IMHO

    1. who said that: “the wealthiest people are those who can walk into a store knowing that they can buy anything they want, but walk away buying nothing.”

  4. I can relate to this post on so many levels. I used to be a people pleaser to avoid conflict, still am sometimes, especially to elder family members. I think we still need to do it sometimes, to make our lives easier, especially if we deal with something menial, we can just go-with-the-flow. And Now that I am raising two daughters, I ask myself every now and then, do I impose a certain ‘must-be’ on them? Do I ask what they really want? I hope they can find that delicate balance between letting go menial conflict by just doing/saying what’s acceptable and being who they really are. It’s a constant process, i suppose.

    1. A delicate balance, indeed.

      It reminded me of a friend who went on a spiritual retreat, and they were talking about the concept of ONENESS. One of the participants asked the retreat facilitator: “It’s such an abstract concept. But how, for instance, should I talk to a postman about ONENESS?”

      And the retreat facilitator replied with: “But, why would you need to talk to a postman about ONENESS?”

  5. Ya ampunn, setelah dipikir-pikir ternyata aku udah melakukan semuanya tapi ga pernah bikin list dan melihat hal itu sebagai perubahan pola pikir/kepribadian.
    Beberapa tahun ini memutuskan sudah terlalu lelah memenuhi ekspektasi (entah dibuat sendiri entah karena tekanan, aku belum tau).

    Kamu menuliskannya dengan cantik, Kak Hanny! Laf it

    1. iya, kalo dipikir semakin nambah umur rasanya lebih bisa jadi diri sendiri :’D
      seandainya pas umur 17 udah kayak gini betapa bahagianya hahahaha 😛

      makasihhhh :*

  6. Reading this makes my tears fall unexpectedly. It’s like reading my whole life journey in a vintage paper which I never want to read. Not because it’s too sad, but I just want to make sure that tomorrow will be better.

    Thanks for writing this
    Such an encouragement for me 🙂


  7. I can relate with your post Mbak Hanny. Since I also wanted to please everyone. Until one day I tried to free my self from that. Like you, I tried to say “no” to other people and give my own perspective. It’s really hard at first and not comfortable. I thing I still learning until now 🙂

If you made it this, far, please say 'hi'. It really means a lot to me! :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.



Legs and Apples
Do it because it’s fun. Because it brings you joy; because it’s meaningful to you. Do it because it gives you simple tiny pleasures. Do it because it makes you smile.
The view from De Klok
I took another digital detox this weekend—I limited myself to a 5-minute screen time on Saturday and Sunday to quickly check my business account. I closed my social media account for the rest of the days.
Hanny illustrator
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.