Raise Your Hand If You're a Recovering People-Pleaser (or Thoughts on the Shadow Side of Being an Online Service Provider)

My boyfriend is one of the most honest people I know.

He’s been through enough to know his triggers, his weaknesses, and the areas where he lies to himself. Each time he admits one of those to me, I am reminded of a truth I’ve also hidden from myself.

What’s even more beautiful about this is that, as our dialogue unfolds, I often say that hidden thing out loud for the first time.

A shadow thought is vocalized into the world where another real human can hear it. (GASP.)

And then? Liberation.

Because he usually says something along the lines of, “Yeah, me too” or “I can see why you would think that...but it’s not true.”

And it takes away the stigma and the shame of having thought that one thing--of having believed that one thing.

We each have shadow sides and subsequently, our thoughts and actions reflect them. Our brilliance has a an equal dose of darkness, and we choose, each day, to show reverence to one or the other, much like the Native American parable of choosing which wolf to feed.

And when we become entrepreneurs, or in this specific case, online service providers, our shadow sides are brought into the spotlight -- not for everyone to see, but on the stage where the mind performs its act. We become harshly aware of our supposed defects, of the ways we hold ourselves back, and of the actions we take -- or don’t take -- to stay small.

For many entrepreneurs, the shadow side manifests as people-pleasing, something I’ve struggled with all of my life.

It’s a confusion about what defines self-worth, and it often leads to charging less than a project calls for, working a string of 10-hour days, working out of scope, never feeling “good” enough, and having a sense of shakiness that any moment someone will realize you aren’t actually good at what you claim to be good at (they’ve found you out!), and poof, it’s all over. Then you will be eating canned beans and crying and without a clue of what to do next because the one thing you thought you could do you were wrong about.

For others, it manifests as feeling the need to “prove” yourself to the faceless online community, which really just serves as a masthead for proving something to yourself. You work, work, and work some more (coffee-stained teeth be damned) and only realize that you never set expectations for what proving yourself meant when you’re ragged and running on empty for the third time that year.

Others seek a cure-all solution in a toxic stew of the shiniest new objects, the latest pieces of guru advice, or the masterminds that promise to make you a 7-figure business owner.

Because then, you will be able to relax and enjoy the good life you’ve heard so much about from other successful entrepreneurs. The need for information takes hold of you like a coke dealer offering just a bit more for free each time you buy, wanting to make sure that your dependency on him increases.

At some point in this entrepreneurial journey, you come to what others have described as “the end of yourself,” this psychic location that reminds you that only you are responsible for what you have and have not created, which means, that if you’re feeling overworked, underappreciated, not good enough, or any other slew of distressing emotions, that you’ve thought those things into existence.

There is no boss to blame, no HR department to point the finger at -- just you, sitting in front of your laptop, wondering if you’ve made the right decision for yourself, again, and it’s only 9 AM.

I know I’ve painted a very Game of Thrones-esque picture here, but there is a way out of this.

Liberation, as I hinted at, comes from admitting our thoughts, investigating them, and deciding whether to believe them or not.

I’m not saying we should avoid our shadow sides. Absolutely not. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, they “inter-are.” One begets the other. They need each other. The suffering we go through as we walk through our shadow sides serves to deepen our compassion for others going through the same thing -- these confusing times of self-loathing, denial, and disatisfaction.

And when we find a clearing, somewhere with a bit more light, we can appreciate that light with a deeper sense of gratitude.

As a human on this earth, you will doubt yourself.

You will convince yourself that you’re not living up to expectations.

You will hate yourself some days for all the things you’re scared of and all the things you believe you can’t do.

And every time you stop, notice that you’re noticing this thought, and speak to that voice with kindness, you’ll heal a bit more.

Your capacity to be lucid will expand.

Your ability to listen with love to all the confusion in this world will surprise you.

And in the midst of this transformation, you will notice that you care just a bit less, on only three of the seven days, for example, whether someone likes the work you’ve done or not.

You will sit with your mind, in all of its chaos, and you will hug it for giving you this gift of gratitude.

Because the truth is that you can be happy now. (Do as Byron Katie advises and cut out the middle part--the luxury car, the lush retirement accounts, the multiple-acre land, all of the things you think you need first--and just be happy now.)

And this healing that happens in your moments of discomfort will help you find peace in the everyday chaos that is being a human.

Humans are forgetful. We forget we are not our work. We forget we are already loved. We forget we can be happy now.

Here’s a reminder.

You are not your work. You are already loved. And you can be happy now.