From my early, bright-eyed days in kindergarten to the slightly weary — but no less enthusiastic — college junior I am today, I have always been a people-pleaser.
For me, there’s little that compares to the euphoric rush I get when I impress someone with my wit, charm, or seemingly-effortless-but-actually-exhausting hard work. I’ve made teachers and professors adore me for my avid participation and effort in class. My friends’ parents appreciate my resounding presence in their kids’ lives. And I’ve even made distant relatives (with whom I barely speak) proud of my academic and extracurricular accomplishments — the most recent being my transfer to UC Berkeley this past fall.
And though I’m not a complete suck-up (I still have my dignity intact, okay), I’ve repeatedly pushed and shaped myself in multiple directions to obtain approval and fall in good grace. Let’s just say that when I inevitably fail to make everyone on planet Earth like me, I don’t always handle it well. It’s for that very reason that New Year’s Day has consistently been my favorite holiday.
As Jan. 1 encroaches every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve anticipated the promise of renewal and betterment encompassing what we call the New Year.
To me, and to many hungry-to-please individuals, it’s as if we’re permitted a fresh canvas, a blank slate, upon which we can change all that we find faulty about ourselves. And for a generally anxious and insecure person like myself, this particular holiday is a godsend.
Looking through the countless notebooks and diaries in which I’ve chronicled the events of my adolescence, the majority of my entries around December and January are limited to self-deprecating lists of my vices, both physical and emotional, paired with solutions I can implement to overcome them.
Some are relatively harmless, and actually pretty reasonable goals — drinking more water is one that has appeared on multiple years’ lists — while others are a bit more concerning, like losing 20 pounds to achieve the “perfect body” or being less opinionated and outspoken. All of these, I’ve realized, don’t really equate to what I wanted and needed, which was simply to feel comfortable in my own skin and with my own existence. Instead, it’s almost as if I was trying to cater to the whims of those around me.
In fact, I’m almost certain now that these goals were just more of my subconscious efforts to help me better assimilate to other people’s expectations.
Growing up, I was an awkward, soft-spoken and almost forgettable girl simply trying to deal with all of the bizarre and often irrational expectations imposed on women by society. As a South Asian Muslim, this task was rendered markedly more difficult, and somewhere among my innermost thoughts and desires, I made the decision to deem myself more palatable to everyone, but ultimately, not to myself.
I’m not sure at what point I started to deviate from this norm, but I’m glad I did. At the start of 2017, I wrote down three things under my annual list of resolutions in my journal: read more books (non-academic ones of my own choosing), procrastinate less and make the most of my 20th year.
Did I entirely adhere to these goals throughout the year? Not exactly. Sometimes I chose Netflix binges over books, writing papers 36 hours before their deadlines and staying in alone rather than going out with friends. But what matters most is that I made them with only one person in mind — the still somewhat awkward and dorky brown girl that I am.
I’ll admit, I still crave validation, maybe because I’m a glaring perfectionist. It’s not something I can easily overcome, especially after years of programming myself to accommodate others. But I’ve realized that this sort of fixation on self-change isn’t one that I’m dealing with alone.
When I let people in on my habit of people-pleasing, my struggles often resonate with them. Turns out, a lot of people don’t feel like they’re living their most authentic selves, and this itself is a whole other means of validation — but unlike my previous tendencies, this is a healthy one.
Despite my past ways and the occasional setback, as each New Year approaches and I delve further into adulthood, I find myself more and more concerned with how I can create the best version of myself — for me and only me.