“Eager to please.” That’s the phrase that Emma Watson used to describe herself in a recent interview. She seems like an intelligent young woman with the potential to have a great career ahead of her. But that phrase just struck me. Because it defines my entire life. Or at the very least, it has defined a lot of my entire life so far, and I’m working on changing that.
It’s interesting to hear that from an actress, because I think it’s typical, but not well recognized. Already an eager to please child, in school and at home, acting was the perfect fit for my personality. By eighth grade, my passion in life was being on stage. It was the time I felt most alive. Sure there was applause at the end, but being on stage was actually the only escape from the need to please and fear of failure. Whether it was a three-minute scene in acting class, or a two-hour play, during that time I was someone else and I no longer had to worry about whether people liked me or if I was good enough, because it wasn’t really me.
But at the same time that performing took away that pressure temporarily, auditioning is self-imposed torture for someone with an unhealthy need to please. You are saying, “Look at me. Am I good enough? Am I better than everyone else? Am I the very best?” And, even though many factors go into casting, if you don’t get the part you want, it is a clear message: “You are not good enough. We don’t like you. We don’t want you.”
People who are not performers often assume that actors are self confident and outgoing, but the vast majority I’ve met are shy and insecure and acting is a way to escape or mask those parts of themselves. Obviously that's not universal, and many actors are able to move past those weaknesses.
I think it is much the same with lawyers. Most people who become lawyers were the children who always did the best in school, and that is often accompanied by an almost sycophantic need to please. Many of us earned praise from our parents and teachers based upon our grades and that is how we learned to derive our self worth. That’s why it can be difficult for law students who go straight from undergrad to law school and then discover for the first time in their lives that they might not be able to get straight As any longer. Many lawyers prove their worth to themselves and the world by their material success, win-loss records, articles published, committees joined, and other professional type accomplishments. Just like actors, it’s not universal, and it doesn’t have to be permanent, but it is definitely common.
So, without the praise, who are we? How do we know we’re good enough without hearing it from the sources we have deemed worthy? Shouldn’t we just “believe in ourselves”?
The presentations on generation-X, generation-Y, and the millennials all say that for the last few decades, parents, teachers, and society have been going overboard teaching every child to have self esteem. There’s merit in that perspective, but no matter what the trend is in pop psychology, it doesn’t change the fact that some people are going to be more insecure and have a greater need to please. And in every generation, I think that type of people is likely to make up a large percentage of the lawyers (and actors).
What’s the answer? Should I just try harder? How do I know when I’ve done enough? I think the answer is a major shift in perspective.
As a Christian, I am at a point where I am finally able to see clearly how important it is for me not to derive my self worth from others – or from myself. My worth – my perfection, even – comes from God. He made me in His image, to do His work, and He is pleased with me. I can probably never be eager enough to please God, but I am being unfaithful to Him when I am eager to please others. I have been moving in this direction for several years now, but I am committed to replacing my eagerness to please with an eagerness to please Go Even though objectively it is impossible to live up to the standard set by Jesus, it is incredibly freeing to begin to trust that there is no other standard that matters.