My homework assignment: On being a people pleaser

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

So, I've challenged my students to write a column for tomorrow's staff get together. We're going to do a read aloud and choose our five favorites for our website. I promised the kids that I would write a column too. I chose a lesson that I'm hoping will resonate with them. :)

About a decade ago (YIKES!), I was blessed with an internship at the South Bend Tribune in the Features department. I absolutely LOVED working there. I loved tackling stories and coming up with my own ideas. I loved seeing those stories turn from an idea to actual words to actual copy on a page. It was a total dream come true. 

As a features writer, I often wrote for the Health section. One of the stories I came up with around this time of year was a look at spray tanning (because, you have to remember that a decade ago, spray tanning was completely new on the scene). I went to a local tanning salon and they walked me through the process and explained how it worked. I spent a good chunk of time there, and then went back to the office to file my story. I also called a dermatologist to talk to her about the health risks (if any) there were to spray tanning. Her quotes centered around the fact that spray tanning was a healthy option, especially if the alternative was going to be a tanning bed and its cancerous effects. 

It was a good quote. I put it in the story and felt proud of what I'd written. I was confident in my story.

Fast forward to a few days later when the story ran. The owner of the tanning salon called and left me a scathing voicemail message about how he was seriously displeased with the story and had lost many customers because, and I quote, "Many of my customers were unaware that tanning beds caused cancer until you pointed it out and have cancelled their memberships!" He threatened a lawsuit. I felt like I'd made a GIANT mistake, and worse, that I'd let people down (this owner, my editor, my adviser who'd helped me get the job... for starters...). I was 100% petrified when I went to my editor to tell her what had happened. She immediately told me she had my back, and that I hadn't done anything wrong, and we called the owner back together. He stewed, for a bit, but eventually let it go without any major fuss. 

But it was at this moment that I realized what my mother always said was true: You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time. It's impossible to make everyone happy. And it's impossible to make everyone like every decision you've ever made. But if you can hold your head up high and know in your heart of hearts that you've done the best you can do by you, that's what truly matters at the end of the day. 

This a lesson I wish I could pass along to my students. Pleasing everyone is next to impossible. It just won't happen. 

And maybe that's not comfortable. 

But it's definitely okay. 


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