The Blog.

Trying too hard to get it right?

16 Jun 2014 | Being Human

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time trying to ‘fit in’. My family moved around a lot, so I had plenty of practice at being the new kid at school. One thing I got good at doing was adapting. 

Which comes in handy when you’re setting up in business, exploring new ground, adapting, evolving and generally making it up as you go along.

But sometimes, my ability to adapt can go too far. Sometimes I’m too willing to adapt, too eager to please. Sometimes adapting becomes people pleasing.

I found myself in a situation recently, where I was under pressure to ‘get it right’. There was a lot at stake, professionally, commercially and personally. When what I delivered didn’t quite hit the spot, it took up so much space in my head, trying to figure it out, work out what was missing, what went wrong, what I should have done differently, or how I needed to change.

All that wrestling got me nowhere. Until a friend reminded me of something I often say to her:

Some people get it. Some don’t. 

If they don’t get it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got it wrong. It just means they didn’t get it.

You can help them get it, if they want your help (which is different from changing yourself or running off to find a different ‘it’ to give them).

And don’t forget the people who do get it, and absolutely want what you have to give.

People pleasing happens when you start thinking more about “what will make them happy” than “what will help them”, when you’re focused more on “what do they want from me?” rather than “how can I best serve these people?”

It takes us down the road of questioning ourselves and doubting the value of what we have to give. It convinces us that we need to change, to be someone else, to be accepted, loved and valued. It lures us away from what we do best, and has us chasing shadows…

And ironically that’s when we have the least impact. When we try to change who we are to fit in, the best we can do is a good imitation.

As Judy Garland said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

It’s only when we stand firm in who we are and what we have to give, that we can give our best – and funnily enough, that’s when we do our best adapting too.

In my particular situation, I went back with a perspective of “How can I help?” rather than “What did I do wrong?” and we had a really useful conversation, that will hopefully be the start of a fruitful partnership.

What about you? Do you sometimes slip into people pleasing? Do you get tempted to fundamentally change who you are or what you offer, to fit in with what you think other people want?

Remember, some people won’t get it. And that’s ok. Instead of trying to please everybody, ask yourself this:

When am I at my best?

How do I give my best?

Who do I give my best to?

I’d love your take on this. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!


  1. Diane Warburton

    I think this is very important. We hear so much advice about knowing what our customers want and who our ideal customers are, that we lose track of what we’re meant to be offering and go off on too much of a tangent. You’ve provided a slightly different angle at which to approach questions such as “why don’t you do such and such?” That question could now be seen as an opportunity to help that customer in whatever way you think best in your circumstances, rather than instantly thinking that the only solution is to just go ahead and provide such and such.

    Even a small mindset change like that could be quite powerful for progress.

    • Grace Marshall

      Exactly! Start from your place of strength and you can serve people so much better. Thanks Diane!

  2. Glyn

    I have found on many occasions that whenever I do a job for some person or organisation I pull out all of the stops to prove how good I am and that they really have picked the right person. It is perhaps silly to chase perfection but I think we all do and particularly when doing work for others. The old saying being: You are only ever as good as the last job you did. (Reputation)
    Increasingly I am now taking more of a Project Management approach to any of the work I do – even work I do for myself. In this respect I now realise how important it is to have a Statement Of Work (SOW). This does not mean I am now inflexible towards what someone wants or inflexible at the end of a ‘project’. What it does mean is that I know what I ‘must’ deliver and what the customer is expecting. It is perhaps the best way to stop ending up trying to ‘please’ and wasting both time and also wasting a lot of mental energy. The latter is perhaps the most debilitating of all and can put you in a ‘bad place’ for a week or more.
    I think a SOW goes that extra step more than just a business contract saying I will deliver x. Many times people sort of know what you will deliver because that is why they picked you in the first place. But increasingly I feel I must spell things out in more detail and that is then good for both sides of the transaction. It is the basis for the negotiation of tidying up loose ends if they feel that you missed something out.

    • Grace Marshall

      Great points Glyn, thanks for sharing. Yes setting out expectations is so key. It sounds like your Statement of Work is doing a good job of that. It means when you do go above and beyond, you don’t miss the ‘basics’ and it’s also clear that you did go above and beyond.

  3. Richard Tubb

    Great blog post Grace. Saying yes to everything that is put in front of us leads to just stress and chaos! I think one of the biggest challenges we all face is learning to say “no” graciously and with tact.

    Sometimes, instead of trying to “fit in” it’s worth acknowledging that you may not be a good fit for the work – or client – and so need to say “no”.

    In my experience, saying no relieves a lot of stress and if done with tact – few people are ever offended by you doing so.

    • Grace Marshall

      Say “no” graciously and with tact – that should be the title of another blog post! Yes, sometimes saying ‘no’ is the best way you can serve a client, even if it’s not what they necessarily asked for. Great comments, thanks Richard!

  4. naomirichards

    Good questions to ask. For me it is recognising when is my best? When do I work the best? These are the times I work and if my head is not the zone for a particular project it does mean going onto something else.

    • Grace Marshall

      Great tactic Naomi – better to make the most of your energy and attention levels than to get frustrated trying to do something that you don’t have the capacity for.


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Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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