Want To Make New Year's Resolutions Your Year-Round Reality? DROP THE DONKEY!
I'm too delicate to walk....
All of us want to reach our goals, to live up to our New Year's Resolutions, and to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our dreams, and our very identity.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again with writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.”
Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever.
One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor.
The same thing happens with everything, with exercise, rearing children, paying off debts, or even picking out a new car. There will always be critics.
Lessons from Aesop
I find it interesting that some of my favorite childhood stories were about character issues that I’ve struggled with my entire life. My favorite story Old Man Whickett’s Donkey and was loosely based off one of Aesop’s fables, The Man, The Boy and The Donkey. The story in a nutshell is this.
An old man and his grandson head to market with their donkey carrying bags of grain for sale. A passerby says, “What a fool. Why buy a donkey if you aren’t going to ride him?”
In response to the critic, Old Man Whickett and the boy load up and ride the donkey into the next town where another passerby says, “You cruel lazy people. That poor donkey carrying all that weight. You should be ashamed.” So Old Man Whickett and the boy dismount and carry the bags of grain and the donkey (which seriously freaked out the donkey).
Anyway—and I am probably butchering this story, but give me a break, I’ve slept since I was five—Old Man Whickett and the boy keep trying to please everyone who passes and what happens?
The bags of grain burst open and spill all over the road from being moved around so much (and in Aesop’s NC-17 version the donkey falls in the river and drowns). They never make it to market and all of them are exhausted and half-dead from trying to please everyone.
Moral of the tale? Try to please everyone and we please no one.
This is a very useful lesson for us to remember, especially in the beginning of the New Year when we have committed to coming up higher, to be a better version of ourselves. We can't save money and please our friends who love shopping therapy. We can't eat healthier and workout and keep our sedentary family members happy. We can't stop smoking and hang out with coworkers who could fog for mosquitoes.
Very often our efforts to get out of debt, drop to a healthy weight, or save for a vacation aren't so much sabotaged by others as they are sabotaged by us...trying to PLEASE others.
One of the biggest mistakes we make when we set goals or resolutions, is we fail to account for the environment. Our goal is like a little seed. Would you plant a seed in a pile of wet magazines in a closet and expect it to grow into a healthy plant?
But too often we make goals and then, in our people-pleasing, create a toxic environment where it is next to impossible for excellence to thrive. Then we fail and beat ourselves up for our "lack of willpower."
Make goals, but then keep in mind that your goals need good soil, sun, and minimal weeds so they can put down roots. People-pleasing is the quickest way to dump toxic waste into the garden of our aspirations.
The Fine Line of Fools
We have to walk what I will call the Fine Line of Fools. There are two different types of fools. There are fools who plunge ahead and don’t ask for any feedback and ignore anyone who tries to warn there might be a problem. But then there is the other type of fool who can never seem to make up her mind. She keeps changing direction every time someone has an opinion.
All of us are in danger of being one kind of fool or another. While the wise person is open to feedback and critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.
I would love to tell you guys I’ve never been either of those fools, but I don’t dig getting struck with lightning.
Oh, I'm going to do cross-fit. Wait, you didn't like it? Okay, then yoga. Too sweaty. Bummer. All right, well then I'll do underwater-wombat-herding. That burns WAY more calories!
Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Mask Fear
I have learned through a lot of trial, error and stupidity that perfectionism and people-pleasing really are just an extension of fear. If we get everyone’s opinion about our book, diet, budget plan, web site, blog, color of fingernail polish, if someone else doesn’t like it, then we don’t have to own it.
“Well, that wasn’t my idea. That was Such-and-Such’s idea.”
Learn to Drop the Donkey
Excellence requires maturity, and grownups own everything---the good and the bad. Mature, goal-oriented people learn to confront early, confront in love, and stick to what they've pledged to do.
That is no easy task, and I have to admit there are times my neck starts hurting and I get this lower back pain and then I realize…I’M CARRYING THE FREAKING DONKEY! DROP THE DONKEY, YOU IDIOT!
We have to be aware that most people mean well, especially friends and family. Humans offer constructive criticism to show love, even when there is nothing wrong. One of your biggest challenges in reaching your dreams will be the hordes of well-meaning folk offering you poles and twine to tie your donkey on a sledge so he doesn't get knee injuries.
This is why it is critical to research your goals, write them down, canonize them, and commit to them. This way, when the well-intentioned show up to strap on your donkey, you can say, “No, thanks. I think my donkey can walk.”
So are you carrying the donkey? Do you find him difficult to drop? Do you fall into the trap of carrying your donkey? I know I am a notorious donkey-toter, but getting better every day. What tools, suggestion or advice would you offer to other who struggle with their respective donkeys? What are warning signs that you are carrying a donkey?