You see, for every person out there who will drive to Quebec City just to find those chocolate-filled croissants you like so much, from that little café on the side street whose name you can’t remember (true story), there’s an equal and opposite person who will absolutely expect you to make that drive for them, because they think they deserve chocolate-filled croissants. There are people pleasers, and there are egocentric, karma-sucking people users. Don’t be either one of these types of people.
A couple of years ago, I was on a job interview, and the CEO of the company asked me some really inappropriate interview questions. For a moment, I struggled to answer (“Have you ever sued a past employer? What would make you sue an employer, do you think?”). Then the clouds parted and a startling realization came down from the heavens and imparted itself upon me: I didn’t want this job. This woman was nuttier than a pecan log, and possibly involved in illegal activities. And then the follow-up: I don’t have to finish this interview.
The people pleaser in me wanted to answer her question, and give her the best answer possible; hopefully the answer she was expecting. (“Umm, I’m usually so loyal to my employer that I would never sue. Lunchtime chicken-porn movies are all in good fun, I say!”) But generations of poisoned food tasters had taught me something: you don’t have to please everyone all the time. It’s impossible. Also, get the hell out.
“You know, I don’t think I’m the best candidate for this position,” I said, getting up and shaking her hand. “Best of luck finding the right fit.” Then I walked—okay, ran—out.
When the egocentric karma-suckers start taking advantage, that’s when the resentment starts. Your time and talents are valuable, and the karma-suckers know it, but they think you don’t. So they’ll try to manipulate you. Don’t let them. It’s one thing to be a good friend; it’s another to be a doormat. Can I pick you up from the airport? Yes. Can I book your flight and pack your bags for you, then call ahead to the hotel to make sure there are mints on the pillow when you arrive? No.
When someone asks you for a favor (and by criminy, they do all the time, don’t they?) ask yourself these things:
1. Is it a huge inconvenience for you? Be realistic. It’s probably not an inconvenience for you to tie your four-year-old nephew’s shoelaces. It might be an inconvenience to raise your four-year-old nephew to adulthood. I mean, does the kid want to go to college? Who’s paying for that?
2. If you do it, will you resent the person who’s asking? This is why I stopped volunteering for a local pet rescue organization years ago. I offered to help trap some feral cats. Then they asked me for money to feed the feral cats, money to pay the feral cats’ vet bills, and wanted me to adopt the sixty-three feral cats I’d helped catch. I was willing to give up an afternoon to help trap feral cats. That was not enough for them. So I quit, hung a remarkably lifelike zombie mannequin being eaten by remarkably lifelike Styrofoam cats in the volunteer coordinator’s yard, and put a note on it that read “YOU.” All of this would’ve been avoided if I’d just declined to help to begin with.
3. Or will it make you feel good to help them out? Sometimes, it’s nice to say yes. Yes, I would be happy to share this platter of fries with you. Not too many. Wait, is this a soup kitchen? Sigh. I guess you can have the whole plate. It’ll make me feel like a better person, even if it will also make me feel like a hungry person.
The lesson for today is this: it’s okay to say no. You don’t need to be a doormat. There are lots of people who will mistake kindness for weakness, and demand more of you. For these people, stock up on the remarkably lifelike zombie mannequins. You’re gonna need ‘em.