On Great Expectations: if we’re all people-pleasers now, then?
Spring Awakening – A Series of Small Attempts to Change No. 3
Everything's changing when I turn around all out of my control; I'm a mobile, said the poet Avril Lavigne in 2002. A year of me wearing my father’s ties around my neck with a white tanktop and baggy pants emulating the cool girl dress code that Lavigne so lavishly displayed in her music videos on MTV ever since the iconic Complicated video came out. Did we all suddenly sat smoking at skater parks with our hair slick and side-parted?
But this is not a piece about the early noughties and that uncanny feeling of seeing GEN Z discovering it for the first time or watching fellow elder Millennials throwing themselves back into dark under-eyeliner circles and mesh tops again, because they know how it’s done: the original indie sleaze. That it feels like traveling back in time, that fantasy of going back and doing it differently, properly this time with the acute awareness of knowing the past-present? As if you could tell the future.
No, this is just an observation. Like so many I am having these days. March brings that out in me. Everything’s changing. Another one is: I hate being disappointed.
Which is to say: Obviously nobody likes to be disappointed. So you might think: Of course you do. Disappointments very well suck. Now what do we do about it?
However there’s a difference between not liking to be disappointed and doing EVERYTHING to avoid them. And to notice that pattern, what that actually looks like this avoiding behaviour, how it’s harmful and undermining yourself and why you should at all cost let yourself be disappointed. Sounds weird? Let me explain.
In German the word disappointment Enttäuschung translates as de-illusion, consisting of the word Täuschung which means illusion, deceit and the preposition ent– which combined with a noun is used to signify the return to a former state, that something is being removed. To be disappointed/enttäuscht means that the illusion, the deceit is being removed and that hollow feeling we call disappointment is left to stay.
In British English however disappointment comes from the Middle French word disappointer, meaning “undo the appointment,” or “remove from office.” Which basically just illuminates the fact, that something is being removed, that something is cancelled. A date, a promise. However why I am bringing up the German translation of the word is because the part about removal of illusion and deceit brings us closer to why it’s so important to feel disappointed.
Cue: Great Expectations. As a writer I might be more prone in creating stories about other people and the world yet I do think to an extend we all write stories all the time. And the most important story is the one we tell about ourselves. It gives us the security to move through the world, Know thyself as the infamous inscription at the Apollo Temple in Delphi supposedly said.
I never really saw myself as a people-pleaser.
People-pleasing is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, self-diagnosed people-pleasers are sprouting everywhere, so much so that it sometimes feels like: is everyone a people-pleaser now? And if so, if everyone is doing the pleasing then who is being pleased? Can we all be people-pleasers?
Being a people-pleaser these days is the equivalent of saying in a job interview: Sometimes I work too much, I can be a bit of a perfectionist. There’s a strange toxicity there, which perhaps has to do with the fact that you can’t please everyone and be authentic at the same time.
Personally I would say I am rarely people-pleasing, yet what I do is perhaps equally terrible: I am a disappointment-avoider.
And not in the sense that people-pleasers avoid disappointing other people, I avoid being disappointed by others, in utter reluctance of recognising their heinous behaviour.
A couple of weeks ago I had a catch-up with a close friend and because it was immediately right before my book launch, I brought her a copy pre-release. She flipped through it excitedly, and I chatted a bit about my expectations and hopes and general joy to see it coming out so soon. However I could feel something was a bit off. The way she was framing it, as a sort of revenge book clutching it in her hands, because I wrote it after a break-up, something about her demeanor felt icy and cold.
She hadn’t actually read what was in it yet, she hadn’t actually asked. It had been like that for a while now in our friendship, a few cutting comments here and there, served with a smile, one time I got so hurt I cried in front of her; nothing major, you know?