If only I could remember where I found those words that I wrote on a heart shaped piece of paper. I know they come from Mother Teresa’s wisdom, but I’m not sure if they are her exact words. I needed to think about the meaning so I stuck the orange heart on my fridge door. It was there for years. I would read the phrase and wonder if I had captured her intended meaning.
The concept baffled me. Since when was it not appropriate to give?
So what if my heart isn’t in it? Isn’t it better to give anyway?
Twenty-six years ago, on a Northern blizzard night at the beginning of a Canadian winter, I said to Sefo, “I get so fed up with being asked to do some favour for someone and then I end up in a messy resentment. What started out as an opportunity to give turns into me being angry.”
“What do you mean?” he said.
“It happens alot, Sef! I’ll give you an example. Someone will ask for a ride to some event we’re both attending. I am happy to give her a ride. In fact, I look forward to the company. Then when I pick her up, I discover she’s got an agenda. She needs to go to the store first. Then she adds coyly that she needs to stop by so-and-so’s place so she can deliver a pan she’s had too long. She’s laughing at herself! And I’m fuming. So now I’m feeling duped AND used! Then we arrive late at the event and have to take some stupid seat in the back row.”
“Wow.” says the Wise Sage of Rotuma.
“Well, what would you say to a person doing that?”
“You got yourself into the situation. Perhaps you’re really angry at yourself.”
“Sefo!” I couldn’t believe he said that.
“Are you asking me what I suggest you do?”
“Well, I was. But I may be changing my mind after that answer!” I said.
“Okay. I suggest that whenever someone asks you to do something for them – outside of work – you tell them ‘no’.”
“What? You mean give them an excuse?”
“No, that’s dishonest. Find the words that offer no excuse and do not make you dishonest. I suggest three months is sufficient time for you to become comfortable with declining.”
“Are you serious?!”
“You asked me and I gave you a suggestion. You are suffering from people-pleasing.”
For three months, I struggled with stopping myself from being the rescuer, fixer and the other roles that turned me into a people-pleaser. I honed the muscle of honesty and learned phrases that I could use that were not excuses.
Mother Teresa’s wisdom blossomed into rich understanding. Miraculously, I ended up with fewer resentments. Before this exercise, I had no idea how much I was a people pleaser. I thought I was trying to be a good person.
What phrases would you use if you had to follow Sefo’s direction?