Why You Should Fail People Pleasing

When your friend calls and asks a favor, do you say yes even when you’re too busy? Do you agree to whatever your friend or date or partner suggests you do for the weekend? Or when you boss asks you to do a little something extra, do you put aside your plans and do it? Are you failing at what’s most important in your life? Chances are that you are a people pleaser. And this is why you should fail people pleasing.

A stack of cards with the word yes on them--say yes too often? that's why you need to fail people pleasing
Said yes too often?

Identify Your Priorities

Most of us have multiple priorities: an education, a family, a home, a job, a vocation, a dream. Add the things on our to-do list and the list can go on and on and on. Welcome to the land of overwhelm.

Stop. Focus. Choose up to three primary priorities. Seriously.

But how, you ask? 

Use a hierarchy of needs. 

A Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Harold Maslow was a psychologist who created a theory of psychological health. It’s called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (Here’s a detailed explanation.)

Represented by a triangle, his theory of motivations starts at the base with fulfilling basic human needs. Once you meet those needs, you move up on the pyramid.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid--Make your own hierarchy of needs so you can fail people pleasing.
Saul McLeod [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Am I suggesting you get a degree in psychology so you can understand his theory? Heck, no. What I’m suggesting is that you use it as a model. 

Make three categories of the things you consider priorities. Perhaps it’s home, faith, and work. Or it could be the family, creativity, and economic stability. You choose your categories to suit you.

  • For example, if the family is one metaphorical level or bucket, that’s where you put being a chaperone for your child, attending all her soccer games, and pizza and movie night. 
  • If creativity is one of your categories, that’s where buying art supplies, time to create art, and activities that enhance your skills in this creative endeavor of yours. 
  • In the faith bucket, you might put daily devotionals, Sunday Services, and attending church socials. 

Get Picky

Here’s the tough part. For each of your three categories, choose ONE thing that you can NOT give up. Not because you’d feel guilty. Guilt is the worst reason to make something a priority. Choose the thing that would hurt you deeply to give up. The thing that is so integral to who you are that you’d feel broken without it. Go on. It might take some time. 

Those three things are your top priorities. 

Start Saying No

You thought the last part was tough? If you’re a people pleaser, this next part is even harder. 

Look at your to-do list, all the commitments you’ve made, and all the activities and must-do’s in your life. If an activity doesn’t fit in one of your three categories, say no. Cross it off your list. 

Saying no is hard for people pleasers. (Ask me how I know.) It’s a skill. But it’s more than that. It’s a protective device. Saying no protects your priorities. 

Politely Fail People Pleasing 

You don’t have to be rude when you say no. Blame your schedule— “I just don’t have time right now.” Plead exhaustion. (It’s not a lie. You know you’re exhausted all the time from constantly doing.) Use your spouse/job/family as an excuse. Or, confess that you over-committed yourself and are trying to do a better job of taking care of yourself. You don’t have to explain. Say no with a smile. 

And the next time someone asks for a favor or a commitment to do one more thing, stop. Protect your priorities. Think about the empowerment of saying no. Think about how much more will you be able to be present and real for the things that really matter. 

Still stumped? You might want to read (or re-read) How to turn I can’t into I can.

Should you fail people pleasing? What is one thing you haven’t said no to yet? If you’ve mastered saying no, what’s your best tip for protecting your priorities?

Story Time Reviews “The Last Question”

If you like stories with a twist ending, you’ll like Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question.” Asimov’s short story first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly. The recording is 36:34 minutes in duration and the story is narrated by Leonard Nimoy

The Story

Two men stand and flip switches on a massive machine with rows of switches, the first Argonne Computer looks something like the Multivac in The Last Question reviewed by LynetteMBurrows.com
image By Argonne National Laboratory – Flickr: AVIDAC — First Argonne Computer (1953), CC BY-SA 2.0

The story begins with, “The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light.” Two of Multivac’s attendants make a five-dollar bet over highballs.

Multivac was a giant, self-adjusting and self-correcting computer. The men “fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued.” The computer had, for decades, designed the ships and plotted the trajectories that allowed Man to reach Mars and Venus. But Earth didn’t have enough resources to create the power needed for such trips. Multivac devised a way to use the sun and “all Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.”

After seven days of public functions, Multivac’s attendants take a moment of peace with the bottle and the computer. One man expresses his delight that the Earth has free power forever. The second man argues that it’s won’t be forever. Then the first man issues a challenge. “Ask the computer.” So they ask, “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?”

The computer’s usual clicks and whirs go silent and its flashing lights go dark. Just when the men feared the computer had stopped, it answers. “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” 

By the next day, the two men plagued with hangovers forgot they’d asked.

Years and years later, a family leaves Earth and travels through hyperspace. Microvac guides the ship. A rod of metal as long as the ship, Microvac runs the ship and answers questions asked by the ship’s passengers. The wife is sad to be leaving Earth and her husband tries to comfort her. Their discussion comes around to entropy. He explains to the children what entropy is and that once the stars are gone there’s no more power. This frightens the children so they ask Microvac the question. It answers,  “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” 

And so the story goes. Hundreds of years pass and another generation worries about entropy and asks the question. Eventually Man leaves the Galaxy. In time, Man becomes a disembodied being. And after trillions and trillions of years, the stars and Galaxies died. And the last man asks the last question. 

Nope. If you haven’t heard the story, I won’t spoil it for you. Read it or better yet, listen to it here.

The Voice Talent

What can I say? Leonard Nimoy narrates this story in a video on YouTube. I love Nimoy’s voice and generally adore his performances. In this story, his narration takes on a bit of monotony. The story is not an intimate one and features this powerful computer, so I understand why he read it in that manner. 

I can’t believe it, but Nimoy did not enhance the story for me. Sacrilegious  I know.

The Author

Image of Isaac Asimov on the cover of his memoir. "The Last Question" written by Asimov is reviewed on LynetteMBurrows.com.

Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov in 1920 Russia, his parents brought him to the United States when he was three. His family changed their surname to Asimov around this time.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov began reading science fiction pulp magazines in 1929 and became a fan. He began writing stories at 11 years of age. His first published work appeared in Boys High School’s literary journal in 1934. His first published science fiction story, Marooned Off Vesta, appeared in Amazing Stories. 

He became a biochemistry professor at Boston University. In the 1970s, he gave up full-time teaching but did occasional lectures.  

A prolific writer and editor, Asimov produced about 500 volumes of fiction and nonfiction. He won dozens of awards. You can find his impressive bibliography here.

Asimov’s story, “Nightfall” (1941), his robot stories (beginning in 1940), and his Foundation series (beginning 1951) are his most famous works of fiction. In an introduction he wrote to The Last Question, he called it his favorite of all the stories he wrote.

Asimov died in 1992. 

If you wish to know more about Isaac Asimov, you may wish to read I, Asimov: A Memoir  and It’s Been a Good Life.

My Opinion

Typically, this is a story that is too distant and too passive for me to enjoy. However, the question is a great hook and one continues expecting the answer will come. 

There are signs of the story’s age. It does not mention skin color or ethnicities or sociopolitical situations. I believe Asimov wrote the story this way to allow all readers to relate to it on some level. I’m uncertain it works. But that would be for someone else to judge. 

When Asimov wrote the story, the twist ending was a total surprise. Today’s readers, steeped in science fiction tropes, won’t find the twist as surprising but it still made this reader sit back in her chair. 

The ending of the story and the answer to the question will have you pondering the themes of this story for days, months, perhaps years. If you’re interested, Google the story. You’ll find dozens of discussions of the themes. 


Because of the themes, I believe “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov is worth listening to for the first or the hundredth time. You can find it here. It’s short story that covers thousands of years and development and poses a question that stays with the reader. That’s a story worth studying. If you liked this review you might want to check out past Story Time Reviews here, here, and here.

Look Hate in the Face and Love

As a writer, I try to write truthfully. Not the Truth, but a truth. Each of us carries the Truth and a truth our entire lives. The Truth, in my mind, is something factual or scientific. A truth is the real experience of an individual. Perception plays a large part in a truth but that does not negate it. So as a writer, I research people who hate so I can write their truth. And in doing that, I discover I must look hate in the face and love that character. When I look deeper? I must look hate in the face and love. Period.

Look hate in the face and love-- fact plus perception equals truth

Truth or Fact

In philosophy, what I call Truth with a capital T is Fact. The use truth and fact as synonymous is misleading. Facts are inarguable. Fire is hot. It is a fact that fire is hot. My perception is also that fire is hot. But I also say my coffee is hot. This is partially fact and partially perception. If I spilled my freshly made coffee onto my hand, it would scald me. Therefore, my coffee is hot is a fact. But I like my coffee with a little cream and I wait several minutes before I taste it. I taste it and say, “ooh, that’s hot.” If you are someone who likes to drink it at nearly scalding temperatures, my coffee would not be hot to you. It’s still hot, but this is where perception comes in. (If you would like to read more about the difference between truth and fact, go here. )

Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve been researching for the next novel in my series, My Soul to Keep. I’ve been researching to create a history or backstory for some of my characters. Some of these characters have backgrounds quite different from mine. Some of these characters do hateful things. When things are outside of my experience, I research. This research is necessary because of my belief in the truth. 

Since truth is partly perspective, I cannot deliver the truth in my writing if I do not understand the other person’s perspective. Or, to put it another way, the other person’s truth. 

Experience Colors Perceptions

As a former nurse, I have interacted with people of all financial backgrounds, skin colors, religious beliefs, and sexual practices. Often, the people I interacted with were at their worst—they hurt because they or their loved one was sick or injured or dying. I think of myself as a tolerant person who wholeheartedly believes in equality regardless of skin color, religious beliefs, sexual practices, or any of the other nonsense that people use to divide us. However, I have observed these things as an outsider. My life experiences are pretty narrow. I’m white and female and have never been desperately poor or outrageously rich. 

As I’ve done my research into the experiences of persons other than myself, I am again caught up in how much perspective influences us. On how narrowly we see the world—even when we THINK we see it truthfully.

A Different Perspective

Do you ever speak of childhood experiences fondly with someone else out in public? Or get excited about something as a child and lapse into childish or family nicknames you rarely use in public? Were you chastised or complimented for speaking English? No? This is an experience of Americans whose childhood is full of non-English memories. And it’s happened to Americans whose last names sound “foreign” or whose skin color isn’t white. 

  • Were you denied a home loan because your last name was an ethnic one?
  • Have you been told that because of your skin color, you cannot have health insurance?
  • Were you surgically sterilized because “your type” shouldn’t have babies?
  • Do you look illegal? Or poor? Or UnAmerican?
  • Have you been told that “your kind” don’t belong here?

A simple search will find a ton of information about racism. Here is a sample of what I’ve read lately: Hispanic Racism here and here. For more about Black Racism read this article. And for Asian Racism start here.

This list could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. Please research before you complain about “reverse racism” or say that racism isn’t that big of a deal. Look for a truth other than yours.

The questions above hurt me. It hurts that anyone has ever been so bullied and terrorized and abused. I wish I could say racism doesn’t happen anymore. But it happens ever single day. It happens not just in America, but since America is my home, it’s where it hurts me most. So I will attempt to write characters true to their perceptions. I will look hate in the face and love because the only antidote to hate is love.