I’m afraid of disappointing others

By Lauren Atherton.

Growing up, I was always one of those good kids. I rarely got into trouble, was an All “A” Student, a talented band geek and voted “most artistic” in senior mock elections. The rare times I did get in trouble, my parents or teachers said the dreaded, “I’m disappointed.” It immediately crushed me, then motivated me to over-please the next time around.

Going through college and into my professional career, I developed the ugly habit of being a “yes man.” I rarely said no. I loved the attention and compliments I received for my work, especially for going “above and beyond” at the expense of time with friends, or just time for myself.

My fear of disappointing others went into overdrive, trying to make everyone love me and keep loving me. If I was the go-to person, I felt valued and confident, and the more I sacrificed, the more valuable I thought I was.

As soon as I felt that I had disappointed someone, my day was overwhelmed with doubt. It would take at least a day or two to mentally get back on track.

This is the way I had operated for YEARS.

Most of my frustration came from suffering in silence and keeping expectations hidden. “I’ll just take care of it” was my mantra, but it was costing me dearly. I knew I couldn’t handle another project, but I’d say yes, anyway.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized trying to achieve professional perfection 24/7 is a real problem.

“I’ve failed.”

“They’ll never use me as a designer or have faith in me again.”

“I’m not good enough.”

Those were a few of my initial thoughts. But I was finally seeing the pain it was causing me to maintain such high expectations that no one else was putting on me. I was putting them on myself.

The tipping point came when I moved to an awesome new city and wasn’t enjoying any of it.

It made me realize how valuable time away from my desk is, and that it’s time to start using the 2-letter word most people hate to hear: no.

I’m responsible for being the best designer I can be, and it’s up to me to defend my time and improve my talent. If I stay silent, the other person has no idea how much is on my plate. Only I do. I need to communicate my concerns and realistic expectations before it turns into disappointment. And that’s okay.

Disappointing others doesn’t define me. It also doesn’t hinder my talent or predict how I’ll do next time. Disappointing others is a natural part of life. It happens … and guess what? Life goes on.

Although I have a much healthier work/life balance now, I still struggle with being a people-pleaser. I try to ask myself what the motivation is behind what I’m doing and give myself boundaries for success.

I’m still learning, but figuring out how to openly discuss realistic expectations has been one of the best life lessons I’ve learned. Disappointment inevitably happens, and I’m still afraid of it, but now I feel like I can face it with a tad bit more confidence.


Lauren Atherton is the founder of Pen & Promise Design Studio, a petite studio based out of Denver, Colorado focused on weaving together purpose and design for small businesses. She’s also an avid traveler, dog-lover and Harry Potter fanatic.

This Fear Confession was originally published on Happy Muses, June 4, 2013.

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