This morning my oldest son was playing Minecraft.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Minecraft, it’s basically a game where you build your own world out of these little blocks. I liken it to digital legos, but on steroids. Some of these worlds are very simple, consisting of a single four-walled house set in a vast blocky landscape, while others are extremely elaborate, with huge palaces, electricity, and machines.

My kids play the simple version, starting up a new world every time, building a very basic structure. They then engage in what appears to amount to a lot of running around, building ridiculously high towers, and then blowing them up. It’s fun for them, and they are always excited to share their creations with us.

Anyway, on this particular morning, my oldest was thrilled because another person had joined his game (a first!). As I came upstairs he was excitedly telling me “Mommy, guess what? [Player X] is playing with me on Minecraft! Can you believe it?!? I got my first visitor!!”

That unbridled enthusiasm and pure joy lasted all of about two minutes.

I had just started the coffee when he returned, dejected. Eyes downcast, he informed me, “He just left the game.”

I was sympathetic – this is the digital version of someone coming to your birthday party and then leaving after 5 minutes, and it was clear he was very disappointed.

So naturally, being a life coach, I navigated this expertly, right??


Instead, I went into fix-it mode, immediately chiming in with, “Well, there are lots of interesting worlds out there. Maybe you could build some interesting things in your world, and then the next time someone comes, they’ll want to stay a little bit longer. How does that sound?”  Face-palm.

It took me about 10 minutes to even realize my mistake, and when I did I cringed inside.

I called my son back to me and asked him the following questions:

  1. How did you feel when he left the game? Sad.

  2. What did you think to yourself when he left?  I wanted him to stay, I was having fun.

I then went on to ask him why he thought the other player left. My son responded mechanically “Because I didn’t have enough cool stuff in my world.”

Ugh. In that one “fix-it” moment, I gave my son the message that it was HIS job to make someone else happy, to keep them entertained. That it was HIS responsibility to make sure they had a good time so that they’d stick around instead of bailing.

I may as well just slap a sign on his back, “People Pleaser In Training.” This is exactly what we people-pleasers do – we measure ourselves by how others perceive us, putting the weight of their happiness on our own shoulders, then wonder why we are never happy, and why, despite all of our best efforts, the people we are pleasing never seem to stay happy.

Luckily, I was able to notice my mistake, and for the next few minutes, we brainstormed other reasons why this player may have left.

Me: Maybe his mom was calling him to breakfast.

Kiddo: Maybe he had to go to the bathroom!

Me: Maybe he had to go to swim lessons.

Kiddo: Maybe he had to go fight a ninja!

Afterward, I pointed out that we came up with a lot of other reasons that he might have left, and we could never know for sure. I then asked him “How do you feel when you believe he left because you didn’t have enough cool stuff in your world?”, to which he replied “Sad.”

I asked, “How do you feel when you believe one of the other reasons he might have left?” He replied, “Not sad.” I asked, “So which do you choose?”

He smiled and said, “Not sad.” then skipped off to go play with his brother.

This is a perfect example of why I need to continually do my own work. I have worked hard on my own people-pleasing tendency, have worked with clients through theirs, and still every now and then I fall into the old pattern. Old habits do indeed die hard and I will probably work on this particular one for the rest of my life. I’m good with that.

As for my son, I can’t stop him from becoming a people-pleaser any more than I can change the direction of the wind – that’s his work, and only he can control that. What I can do is be mindful of the language and messages I model for him, and sit and work through situations like this with him, in hope that he may find his own way for navigating the world, one that makes him feel powerful and strong, without needing other people’s approval. Free to be himself.

Invitation: Think about an area in your life where you have worked to “build cool stuff”, for the sole purpose of impressing others or keeping them happy.  It could be something in your job, a relationship, the clothes you wear, even what you post on Facebook.

Now think about how it would feel to STOP doing that, once and completely, without worrying about what anyone else thinks or how they will react.  Does it feel like freedom?