I once asked a teacher of mine, “How do I manage all of the demands that life and people are making of me and still stay centered?”
His answer wasn’t easy for me to swallow. He said, “You need to learn to disappoint people. If you’re not disappointing someone then you’re not being honest and you’ll never have peace.”
Now, I have always been the kind of person who never let anyone down. I loved hearing my friends say “Karen, you are such a good friend! I can always count on you when I need you.”
So, hearing that my homework was basically to learn to let people down was absolutely devastating! I was, however, an obedient student (wouldn’t want to let my teacher down, right?) so I decided I needed to tackle this challenge and explore what that meant.
I began to test out this concept in my life. I began to see that there was a trick to this letting people down business; and it all had to do with creating healthy boundaries. As I started testing this out, I realized that I might still be technically ‘disappointing’ people, but they didn’t seem to mind nearly as much. In fact, I found that they (and I) felt infinitely better about what I was (and was not) committing to do. Here are a few guidelines I came up with that made it much easier to deal the ‘disappointment’:
- Take some time before you answer – Don’t be so quick to offer the moon. It’s perfectly OK to tell someone that you need to check your schedule before you respond to someone’s request. This is an area that may ‘disappoint’ someone who is looking for a quick reply, but by holding off on your answer, it will be harder for them to create an unrealistic expectation of your availability and, in the end, even if you have to tell them you’re not available it will soften the blow.
- Make a realistic assessment of your time – This includes allowing enough time to give your full attention to the things you already have planned AND including in-between time, self care time and just ‘space out’ time. How many of us will agree to schedule back to back meetings without leaving any time in between to travel, eat or even go to the bathroom!
- Don’t say yes if you mean no– Does this sound familiar? Someone invites you to an event that you really don’t feel like going to, but since you don’t want to let them down or seem like a party pooper, you say “ah sure…but let’s firm up our plans later in the week.” Then you wait until the absolute last minute to decide. You don’t make any other plans, but you decide not to go. So now, you don’t have plans, it’s been in the back of your mind bothering you all week, AND you’ve annoyed your friend, too! If you can bring yourself to say that you really don’t feel like going at the outset, generally everyone will be happier.
- Commit when you commit – When you finally decide you’re going to do something, then make sure you do it and decide to enjoy it! Sounds so simple, but it really is useful. Committing to something with a really positive attitude can really feel good. This one was easier for me being a New Yorker and made for a hard adjustment to make moving to California–the land of sketchy commitments– where an acceptable excuse for bailing on a commitment is “sorry man, I flaked!”
- Ask for help – This one isn’t so easy for many people, especially people pleasers and those of us who don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable in front of others. We think that we’re burdening others to ask for help. What I realized, though, is that lots of people really appreciate being needed and very often working together on a project not only saves times, but also usually ends up being much more fun. Try it!
When I started using even SOME of these tools, I immediately starting having success. What I found was that people really appreciate my honesty and they also REALLY appreciate my presence when I decide to do something. AND, it saves me so much time, because now I shave off the time I spend doing things I don’t want to do, deliberating about what I’m going to do and worrying about what someone else was going to think about what I decided to do. And I when decide to do something, I really enjoy it! What a concept!
Boundary Challenge: Take one of these 5 suggestions and practice it for a week. Jot down how you feel, how your friends respond and how much time you save! And most of all, have fun! 🙂