why you can free yourself from pointless people-pleasing



Not everybody has to like you.

Only your Right People need to like you.

When we think in terms of audience, going for a few of the people instead of all of the people seems counter-intuitive. Our instinct is to make ourselves as broad-ranging as possible, so that there’s a bit of our fabulousness for everyone.

This doesn’t work.

Think about how networks work.

We like to cluster. What’s more, we tend to cluster with people similar to us, with similar interests. If someone in a cluster falls in love with your blog, for example, chances are good she’ll pass it on to person B. Who might pass it on to persons C and D.

And so on — until you’re widely known throughout that cluster and spreading out to another, connected cluster, where word of mouth continues to do its magic.

But if your blog is all over the place, it won’t have a chance to sink through any one cluster because it’s too busy appealing to different clusters. So by the time person B or person C checks it out, your blog doesn’t seem relevant to them — which means they lose interest. The buzz stops and keels over dead.

Not to mention that if your message — your voice — is that inconsistent or compromised or watered-down to begin with, you’re unlikely to get anybody talking about you at all.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was this: picture your Ideal Reader in your head and write directly and intimately to that reader. Instead of reaching for the masses you’re reaching for the heart and soul of that one reader. You make her feel recognized

(and recognition is a gift)

by saying what she can’t, or didn’t know she wanted to say. When you resonate like that, you make a powerful connection — and a fan, maybe even a True Fan, who gets excited enough to share you with others.

Because she is one of your Right People.

You know those people: they’re the ones you groove with, and spark with, and feel both electric and comfortable with. You’ve known each other for all of ten minutes when it feels like you’ve known each other forever.

So much of the quality of our lives (not to mention our creative careers) depends upon Right People.

They might or might not be the groups of people we were born into, and who populated the schools and neighborhoods of our childhoods.

When they’re not, we’re forced to navigate difficult territory.

The groups we’re in exert a powerful influence on us. We shape ourselves to fit in, to belong. Our groups reflect back to us a sense of who we are. If they are Wrong People — especially if they’re so wrong that they’re emotionally and verbally abusive — they throw back distorted images that take our flaws and magnify them until we think that is all we are.

When we’re with Wrong People, we lop off parts of ourselves and contort ourselves to fit some kind of definition of what we think we need to be in order to win love

(what we assume to be love)

and approval.

Eventually we might realize that instead of suffering this way, we can go exploring for our Right People: the people who light us up and draw out our strengths and make us better, happier versions of ourselves.

As a creator, you call your Right People to you by working as close to your soul as you can.

There’s a point, I think, where your own needs merge with the needs of your Right People, so that by writing for yourself you are writing for them, and vice-versa.

When you write for yourself, you stay passionate and engaged with your material, you push boundaries and take risks and break new ground; when you write for others, you stay connected and relevant to the world outside your own head. You don’t get lost in your journey. You make it meaningful for others.

By keeping your voice pure and true, you can send it out across the Internet and be somebody’s Right Person. You might even deliver a message that she needs to hear — because maybe you’re the only Right Person at that particular point in time, who can in some way tell her:

You are not lost, no matter what they say. You are wandering and exploring, which is as it should be. You will find your tribe. You will find your way home.

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May 26, 2011

14 comments · Add Yours

This post goes straight to the heart of my difficulties in growing my blog and finding a target audience for my novel. I have an eclectic mind and soul – I change with wind; like a chameleon I’m always experimenting with new colours. So my dilemma is: in an effort to find one tribe, do I limit that part of myself that constantly seeks the new, or do I just let myself be and accept that I’ll always be on the periphery of a tribe? In a way my blog and my novel reflect my choice: I’ve chosen to keep my inner integrity, but the price is a certain amount of alienation from the mainstream. An excellent post which brought me a light bulb moment. Thanks!
Judy, South Africa


I long ago recognised that I would only ever attract a small audience. It’s not because I’m not a very good writer. I just don’t write about the find of things that attract huge audiences. I could try to change but you know what they say about relationships where one person tries to change to please the other? No, my readers have to take me for who I am. My ideal reader is me. I know it’s me because I write the kind of books I like to read. Jeanette Winterson was once criticised for nominating one of her own books for Book of the Year in 1992. Why? To my mind every author you asked should have thought his or her book was the best book written that year. It was a little foolhardy of her to say so in public but I don’t blame her for thinking it.

I get what you’re saying about our Right People. I have to say that although I have met a handful of people online that I could say are my Right People on the whole I really don’t know what I’m doing. I am not a social animal. I find sites like Facebook oppressive in just the same way I find big (or even not that big) social events hard to cope with. The irony is that when I first logged onto the Internet about seventeen years ago, typed ‘poetry’ into a search engine and saw just how many sites there were out there, the first word that came to my mind was ‘home’. From being surrounded by non-writers (and mostly non-readers) for decades I was suddenly with people who saw what I did as perfectly normal, natural, expected even, who accepted me for who I was. That hasn’t changed but although we’re all writers there aren’t too many like me out there and I still feel on the edges. But at least I’m in.


A-freakin-men! I have very eclectic tastes and wonder the same thing you do. I, too, change like the wind and chameleon would be a good word to describe me. I feel the same dilemma.

Justine, thank you so much for that line about picturing the ideal reader and writing for him or her. What I’m going to do now is write a list–probably a very short one–of people who “get” me and vice versa. Someone who I can envision writing for and loving every bit of it. Let’s assume I can do this successfully and gather a nice following. How do I know these blog followers and twitter followers will be the same audience that will be interested in my books?


This is a timely post for me because my blog has been all over the place. I’ve had a hard time trying to figure out what to put on it or who to write it for. Last week I finally figured it out and started to change direction.


A friend shared with me our books are not for everyone. I knew this, but to hear it really give me the freedom to celebrate what my work is and not stress about what it isn’t.


Thanks for this very timely post. I’ve been blogging about people pleasing a fair amount recently, and have even started a project to help me write blog posts that are less “nice” and more bluntly about the topics I am passionate about. It’s great to read a post like this and get even more motivation. :)


Such good advice! I agree with the first commenter, that this can be harder when your tastes are eclectic, but on the other hand, hopefully one’s voice doesn’t change no matter what your subject. Right people are so important, maybe it is just a little harder to find them when you don’t feel yourself to be easily categorized, but how much better when you do.


This is what is amazing about the blogosphere. We are able to find the people that truly resonate with us no matter what our geographic location is. Thank you for describing this point so beautifully.


I’ve always thought that you should simply write what resonates with you and not worry about making everyone like you. I know I’ve quoted Ricky Nelson song before elsewhere, but I still believe it’s God’s honest truth: “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” If I’m not writing about the things I enjoy, things that resonate with me, any reader I’m trying to impress with that kind of inauthentic self will get wise to my ruse. The result: not only will people lose interest in whatever charade I try to pull off, but I’ll be bored with myself! It’s been said that when you do what you love, the money will follow; by the same token, if you write about what you love, the readers will follow, and one way or another, both you and your readers will benefit!


A great reminder, Justine. Thanks. BTW I am unsubscribing but only because I also get TW on Google Reader. Looking forward to your continuing wisdom.


A note for those who like to explore different subjects, groups, genres — maybe your subject matter changes but your ‘voice’, your worldview, are likely to remain consistent. Maybe there’s a life philosophy you have that ties everything together, and that philosophy is what you can ‘promote’ — (I’m thinking of Chris Guillebeau who also likes to write about different things, but ties everything together with the idea of ‘unconventional living’ ). Who are the people who think and believe like you do, and where are you likely to find them? And are you *sure* there aren’t any recurring themes or interests in your work that you could build, say, a blog around?

all best.


@justine Yes Justine, I agree with you about how our writing voice and world view colors and organizes all subjects that come out of us. But I’d also like to comment on Judy Croome’s statement, because I also feel like I don’t fit in sometimes, like I’m always at the edge of the group pretending to be part of it. And for a long time, I felt like a Visitor from some place else. But over the years I’ve managed to step away from my alienation and connect with others, because I’ve come to realize that we’re all visitors (we’re all unique), and what holds us together, even more than mutual ideas, are human FEELINGS. Feelings are universal.

And so, who are those RIGHT people for me, the friends and readers that share my world view of ideas? There aren’t that many. But who are the people who share my fears and joys and desires? The entire world! So I think the skill needed to connect to a larger pool of human souls, is the ability to HONESTLY AND OPENLY SHARE FEELINGS within blogs, novels, circles of friendship, the work place, school, our families, and so on. And to do that, we need to look “inside,” as you have explained in the past.

Again, thank you for deep thoughts to ponder.



Great post. You’re so right. If you’re pleasing everybody, you’re pleasing no-one, right? Thanks for the inspiration :)

Also, Judy, if you’re seeking consistency but worry that your interests are too diverse, maybe you should think of the one constant as YOU? Relate things back to other things you’ve mentioned, explain why you liked one thing more than that other thing you talked about before and make it all part of a linear journey or learning experience. By maintaining a creative ‘pioneer’ type spirit that is always changing, you could take readers with you and make the whole thing feel adventurous and fresh. ‘The thing I love right now’ etc.

Justine – nice blog rework! Looks fab.


@Judy Croome

Hi Judy, i too, want to begin a blog and am writing a novel – about a character who dwells on the periphery; what my daughter and I call ‘a fringe-dweller’!
Would love to read your blog – please share! Mine is still an idea…


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