People Pleaser

Sandy Eichel
Photo by Sandy Eichel

In case you didn’t catch the first episode of our series, I am a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist trying to preach the gospel of not “shoulding” all over yourself. I should be this, I should be that. Yep, I’m talking to you. The people that are always yearning to make things nice for other people and thinking they are never good enough.

This is about trying to please the person that you will never be able to please. For me, it’s my dad (fill in the blank with the person in your life). There always seems to be a person in our early life that we can’t please, and so, logically, we spend the rest of our lives trying to please them—never quite making the mark.

From a very early age, I learned from my dad and my stepmother that I couldn’t do anything right. I didn’t see my dad very much, relegated to his care on holidays and such, and then we’d spend the holidays with my stepmother’s family. Her kids were older and out of the house, and I got the impression that she wasn’t happy that we existed. But the divorce decree said custody at holidays, so there we were.

On the car ride back from each celebration, I was informed that I had failed. I was too enthusiastic, too talkative, too everything. My excitement to see my dad and fill him in on what was going on in my life was not acceptable. Then the next holiday I would try to behave. Then I would be told I was antisocial. Many wintry holiday afternoons were spent walking to escape criticism being hurled at me.

It wasn’t the end of the world. I survived, but it made me believe that I had to do something truly extraordinary to prove to my dad and stepmother that I deserved life. I found that vehicle in singing and performing. I loved music from a very early age—my mom says I could sing before I could talk. My dad was a huge music lover, and took me to my first musical audition at a fairly young age. I remember thinking I needed to do whatever it took to get a role so he would see that time with me was not a waste.

In junior high, I sang a lot and wanted to be a rock chick—specifically Pat Benatar. Didn’t everyone? My dad, seeing my vocal talent, wanted to get me voice lessons. Yippee, I thought, until I heard the catch—he wanted me to take classical voice lessons. Not what I was envisioning. He informed me that Pat Benatar studied classical voice and that convinced me. Add in the fact that I would see him every other week for dinner, just the two of us, before each lesson. YES, YES, and YES. Seeing my dad AND doing something he approved of. Certainly this would garner me favor, and he could report how lovely I was to my stepmother. All would be well.

Photograph provided by Sandy Eichel

My voice teacher was very serious, and she said that I shouldn’t sing any music other than classical…as a teenager. Okay, sure, likely to happen. NOT. This was the start of living a double life. I was punk a rock chick who sang musicals at school by day, and a classical, serious, obedient, young opera apprentice every other week. I morphed for the situations I was in to please people around me. I did well with classical singing. So well, in fact, that I won classical voice competitions in high school and was strongly encouraged by my dad and voice teacher to audition for college as a classical voice major studying opera. I auditioned, scored a top scholarship, and off I went on the conveyor belt of a dream that was not mine. I had not seen an opera or classical voice recital, so I really had no idea what I was in for, except that it was impressive and everyone loved me doing it. Good enough for me!

In college, I auditioned for my first opera and was cast as a major role…as a freshman…having never seen an opera. My opera director pulled me in his office to tell me that I needed to change my persona. I was wearing funky clothes, not looking like a serious opera singer. He said everything should let people know that I was an opera singer, and that people should see me walk down the street and know exactly what roles I played based on the way I dressed, walked, and talked. Everything should fit the part.

I started conforming to the expectation of being what I was supposed to be. Away went my fun clothes and funky hair, and on went dresses, high heels, and feminine hair. I looked and acted the part of an opera singer. That led to me pursuing a career in opera and teaching voice lessons, which was my career for almost 20 years. I went so far to please my dad that I became a professional opera singer. Isn’t that ridiculous? Perhaps you haven’t done anything this drastic, but surely you’ve made decisions to please other people. Have you ever conformed to be praised or fit into a group? I think most of us have. What are the things you have done to please other people? Was it the college you went to or the major you picked?

What other decisions did you make to please others? Usually one decision for someone else leads to another. Here is my realization: when you are pretending to be someone else so that someone loves you, they aren’t really loving you, but the role you are playing to please them. I did everything in my life to please others, I never felt loved or accepted because I never gave anyone the chance to love and accept ME, the real me. I decided to go off script and be who I really am and do what I wanted to do. We have that ability, to drop the act whenever we want. Sure, some people won’t like it, but then they wouldn’t like the real you anyway. Stay tuned. I will tell you how I found the exit door for a life that wasn’t mine.

Photograph provided by Sandy Eichel

Sandy Eichel is a happy ex-should-er.