I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
In the past few years, I have discovered that there’s a huge and wonderful difference between being nice to people because I “have to” and being nice to people because I want to.
As a child I learned to always be nice, friendly, positive, and peace-making with others, at the cost of suppressing my true feelings. Even as a teenager, I was excessively nice to people all the time because I felt like I had to be in order to ensure my own wellbeing—I was terrified of the unknown consequences of causing people to feel displeased with me. I apologized incessantly and kept the focus off myself by getting people to talk about themselves.
Then in early adulthood I went through a reaction phase where I was all about being true to my own feelings, even if that meant (and it often did) being rather cold to people out of a protective instinct for my newborn, true-to-self identity.
But now, during these past several years in which I’ve grown massively in my emotional maturity, I have evened out to a much better place. It’s deliciously empowering to know that I don’t have to be nice to people—I will stay true to myself, and if that means expressing some anger, saying something that someone might disagree with, letting myself be quiet instead of friendly when I need to, or just not bending over backwards to please people, then I accept whatever consequences may come—but I also can choose to be nice to people when I want to, out of genuine human warmth rather than cringing subservience.
There are still tricky moments, though. I work in a customer service job that necessitates a certain amount of being nice to people even when you don’t feel like it (and there are plenty of moments when I don’t feel like it). But I also understand now that the kind of niceness I need to show in order to help things run smoothly is not the same kind of desperate, insecure, “please like me, please don’t get mad at me” niceness that I grew up displaying; it’s a more adult mindset of politeness, dignity, conventional friendliness, and professionalism that actually serves to distance and protect my inner self from the workplace proceedings. And yet, I’ve also learned that there is a certain point beyond which the customer is not “always right”—I will assert myself as needed rather than passively take abuse when a customer treats me badly.
Knowing that I will protect myself as needed allows me to relax and open up to people with friendliness, interest, kindness, compassion, and—best of all, in my mind—calmness. I don’t fear other people the way I used to.
Still, some vestiges of my old, fear-based habits remain, especially when I’m feeling tired or low: I’ll become anxious and overly apologetic when people have to wait on me to do something, for example, or I’ll act a little cold or snippy when I’m feeling extra introverted.
I’m sure I’ll always be on this journey toward a mature balance of assertiveness and amiableness. But I’m thrilled to be here now!