Pleasing people feels good. We all like it when people give us positive feedback and approve of what we’re doing. But if we’re constantly second guessing what will please everyone, we’re setting ourselves up for anxiety and discomfort.

I was recently reminded in a session with a client of the old Aesop’s fable about a man, his son and their donkey.

The man and his son are walking along with their donkey when a passerby comments, ‘What’s the point in having a donkey if you don’t ride it?’ So the man puts his son on the donkey and they walk on. After a little while, they walk past a group of people who start commenting loudly. ‘How selfish it is of the boy to ride when his poor old father has to walk.’

So, the man puts his son on the donkey too. Before long they pass someone else, who also has an opinion. ‘How cruel and unfair to overload the donkey like that, with father and son’ So the man and his son both got down and decided that the only option was for them to carry the donkey…

If we try to please everyone, we will end up pleasing no-one

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever listen to criticism. I also think it probably was cruel to put both of them on the donkey. However, the moral of the story is that if we try to please everyone, we will end up pleasing no-one.

There will always be people who don’t approve of your actions. They may not understand what you’re trying to do, or they may have had their own bad experiences in the past that they want to protect you from, or they may even be envious.

Ultimately we need to weigh up any criticism we receive against our own judgement and values.

Using our core values as our guide

All of us have values, and when we are not acting in accordance with these values, we naturally feel uncomfortable and unhappy. However, our core values may not be the same as those we have been told we ‘should’ have, or we may be trying to hold values which are actually in conflict with each other- usually because we are trying to please other people.

When we become more fully aware of our own core values, making decisions and responding to criticism becomes much more straightforward (if not exactly easy).

If what we’re doing doesn’t match with our values, it’s time to take the criticism on the chin. If, after an honest inventory, we conclude that we are happy that what we’re doing does match our values, then we can conclude that any change would be more about trying to please everyone than anything else.