Our culture trains us to be ‘nice.’ No is a two-letter ‘four-letter word.’ Boundaries are ‘being mean.’ We should all strive to ‘understand, be flexible, and all get along.’ It’s as if there’s no middle ground between jerk and b$#@ versus someone with a healthy sense of boundaries.
Besides *chirpy voice* good deeds add up. If we’re nice to others, they’ll be nice to us! In fact the NICER we are, the better.
The problem with this thinking is it’s utter and total bull sprinkles. It’s propaganda for the takers to groom eager givers, to keep us in line and happy to give more and more…even when its killing us.
Part of how predators (takers) maintain the grift is to fool us into believing that effort and results always have direct correlation.
What they don’t want you or me (or anyone else brave enough to confess to being a sucker) is this: The one-to-one ratio regarding effort and reward only applies in certain areas.
We’re bombarded with the notion that if we work twice as long, we can expect twice the results.
This IS true, just not universally true.
More is Not Always MORE
Let’s use an example. Say I work twice as long and twice as hard cleaning my house. Yes, my house will be twice as clean. Say, I make a clean spot and work four times, five times, ten times longer and harder to make my house SHINE.
I organize every drawer and closet, touch up ugly dings in the floorboards with leftover paint, and scrub and polish everything in my house that doesn’t move fast enough to evade my Swiffer (I’ve never done this *whistles innocently*) then sure, my home will look AMAZING.
My results will reflect time, effort, and vigor in direct proportion to effort vested.
If, however, I work twice as hard to get people to like me, the more likely my enthusiasm will simply make others run away while mumbling words like ‘needy,’ ‘clingy,’ and ‘stalker.’
Most reasonable folks would agree that taking a shower daily is a good thing. Taking thirty showers a day? This doesn’t make me ‘cleaner,’ it makes me a classic case of OCD and prime candidate for behavioral therapy and psych meds.
But This Isn’t ME
Okay, okay I get it. Some of you are laughing at me right now. Kristen, I don’t take thirty showers a day. I’m lucky take one. I barely have time to call my friends once a month, let alone ten times a day. This just doesn’t apply to me.
Fair point, but bear with me.
See, when I focus the effort-reward correlation on ONE activity, the insanity is far easier to see. No one needs a degree in clinical psychology to discern that mowing our yard twice a day is…well, crazy.
But how many of us overcommit? We say yes to everything and everyone believing the more we DO, the better person we are. The more we are nice to others, the more OTHERS will be nice to us. More NICE expended equals more NICE returned.
So I don’t hurt any feelings, I’m going to make up an example I believe many of us ‘nice guys/gals’ can relate to.
Let’s say your boss assigns your colleague a very important task. She’s to host a dinner party for the out-of-town investors your company wants to impress. You’re stoked because you’ve been eagerly looking forward to networking with the movers and shakers in your industry.
Four days before the event, your colleague calls frantic and asks you to help. You say yes, because you’re so nice. You assume maybe she needs help making seating arrangements or folding napkins into swans.
It’s only after you agree to help that your colleague confesses she hasn’t even started.
She’s gonna get fired! Your desperate colleague is in crisis and begs for your help (while ugly-crying). She might say things like:
You’re the type of person who can handle this! Why did Mr. Boss pick me and not you? What will the investors think? How will this impact the company image? I can’t believe I messed up so badly *sobs*.
And you comfort her and agree to help because you’re so incredibly nice. Worse, you’re beyond nice (you’re pathologically nice).
Since this colleague failed to book a venue or hire caterers early enough, you know the bill for something so last-minute will be staggering. It’s fine, though. You can host at your in-law’s large home and do the cooking yourself. Then the company will see how much money you saved them and all you did to pull off—a frigging miracle—an incredible party.
Sure it sucks you had to hire a professional cleaning service to detail your in-law’s home and took three vacation days to cook a gourmet spread that catered to paleo, vegan, and vegetarian preferences (all organic and gluten-free).
But it will all pay off.
Besides, you gave your colleague the receipts so she can make sure you’ll be reimbursed.
Alas, during the dinner party, instead of networking as planned and boosting your career up a few rungs, you’re too busy in the kitchen making sure there are enough clean wine glasses.
Meanwhile, your ‘desperate’ colleague is remarkably at ease. She’s happily chatting away in her new designer dress while you hide…since you smell like a turducken had a one night stand with a Bananas Foster.
As you’re cleaning the red wine stain off your MIL’s cream carpet, you overhear your boss praising your colleague for such ingenuity. She put together a fabulous event, and did so by applying imagination, creativity, delegation and using only half the allotted budget!
*Boss gaping at the receipts she hands him*
Just as you’re contemplating whether your colleague’s body will fit in the trunk of your Honda, she comes and hugs you and tells you how you are the BEST! She couldn’t have done it without you and you’re a magician.
Funny thing, though. If you’re the magician, how is she the one who disappears when the party ends and it’s time to clean up?
Any guesses on who got the promotion?
Hint: She ain’t the one washing dishes.
We’re Called to Be KIND Not NICE
As a writer, I’m particularly picky about words. There are far too many words used as synonyms, when they really aren’t. Kind and nice are my peeves because our culture uses them interchangeably. Yet, kind and nice are NOT the same thing. Not even close.
We’ve likely all heard Nice guys (gals) finish last. But who’s ever heard, Kind guys (gals) finish last?
Ever heard Kill em with niceness? Yeah. Me neither.
What’s the difference?
Nice people are nice. They place everyone and everything as a priority ahead of themselves. When we’re nice, we’re people-pleasers and approval addicts. We seek reward via a proxy, instead of hustling it for ourselves (I.e. Trusting the colleague to make sure credit went where credit was due).
In my made-up example, the nice gal ends up doing the dishes. If she’d been a kind gal, she would have said a loving, but firm NO the second she realized her colleague hadn’t even started planning the party.
The colleague then would either a) be fired b) learn how to make her own magic in four days or c) fallen on her sword and gone to boss and explained the help she needed so everyone received proper credit (and appropriate workload).
But, since nice people get a rep for saying yes, we end up prime targets for users. Users loooove people who can’t set boundaries, because then it’s easier to take all they want and never give back, largely because ‘nice’ people wouldn’t hear of it.
We ‘nice folks’ say dumb crap like, Oh no, it’s fine you damaged my favorite blouse, broke my weed-eater, ‘forgot’ to come help me move (even though I’ve helped you move six times), etc. I understand.
Be Nice…Until It’s Time NOT to Be Nice
The 1989 movie Road House with Patrick Swayze is a brilliant illustration of the difference between kind and nice. Swayze plays Dalton, a professional bouncer and the best in the business. Tilghman, the owner of a sleazy bar in Missouri—The Double Deuce—hires Dalton in a last ditch attempt to clean the place up.
Tilghman is desperate. Everyone is out of control—customers, servers, staff, bouncers, and bartenders. Tilghman, being a ‘nice guy,’ has been unable to rein in the chaos and terror. He’s sunk a lot of money into a place where ‘you have to sweep the eyeballs off the floor at night.’
When Dalton makes an initial visit, it’s clear what’s going so horribly wrong. There are no boundaries or consequences for bad behavior. Some bouncers are more hot-headed than the patrons they throw out the front door. Other bouncers are too timid and allow customers to walk all over them. This then escalates into brawls and a lot of broken glass and blood.
Probably the best part of the movie is when Dalton lectures the bouncers and staff about being ‘nice.’
***Warning. There is brief profanity in this clip.
Dalton understands how important it is to be kind in order to deescalate tension, allow potential troublemakers to save face, and eventually attract the right sort of clientele. A higher quality patron won’t tolerate a bar where the staff is rude and disrespectful.
Yet, in this clip, Dalton brilliantly illustrates the difference between kind and nice.
Kindness is Power
The main difference between nice and kind is nice is a byproduct of weakness, fear, uncertainty, and low self-esteem. Kindness, by contrast, is a byproduct of confidence, peace, and respect for others as well as for oneself.
A kind person sets boundaries, commands respect, and learns when and how to say no. Kind people are comfortable with consequences. While happy to loan out an air compressor, if the borrower breaks it? They buy it or pay for it to be repaired. If they don’t? They lose the privilege of borrowing anything ever again.
Users pull a fast one…once.
No-ing What You’re Worth
It’s easy to claim we have dreams and goals. But do we? REALLY? I challenge y’all to check where exactly those dreams and goals sit on the priority list. Lemme guess, they haven’t even made the list.
STOP BEING NICE. Nice people indiscriminately say yes. Problem is, while we’re saying yes to everyone else, we’re constantly telling ourselves no.
Actually, we tell ourselves ‘later’—which is is ancient Aramaic for NEVER #TrueFactIJustMadeUp.
I get the house is a mess, but guess what? It can wait. Science has proven others can figure out how to use a vacuum, even teenagers. Send them a YouTube video, if need be. Hide the car keys in the garage and they’ll clean that sucker OUT.
It is also possible to put words on a page or in a blog…with dirty laundry present in your domicile. Dust will not negatively impact tweets and dingy whites have exhibited no measurable impact on story structure.
We are also—brace for it—under zero obligation to orchestrate/supervise so many play dates and ‘fun’ activities our kids grow up believing ‘Lido Deck’ means ‘Mom’ (or ‘Dad’) in Spanish, and that life is a never-ending Carnival Cruise.
How many of us are getting up before dawn or staying up after midnight because our dream might just inconvenience someone else? Let them be inconvenienced for a change.
So many of us creative people bend more than the karma sutra and…well, that’s perfectly okay! But, if our spouse or kids are forced to make a PBJ instead of enjoying a home-cooked meal, that’s asking too much?
No. It isn’t. So stop feeling guilty.
Feel free to spend all day or all week cleaning that house, baking cookies for the church bake sale, helping your brother-in-law write his resume (which is code for you writing his resume for FREE) and I’ll tell you what to expect. You’ll be lost, hurt, burned out, stressed, and feeling like a failure.
Why? Because none of that ‘other stuff’ endures. A finished novel remains even while clean laundry disappears faster than Tupperware lids cross-bred with men’s socks.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Finished being nice? I confess, I blog on all the stuff I struggle with. I’m a work in progress. I wondered if I might need tattoo removal to get WELCOME off my forehead. Still wonder at times.
Have you put everyone and everything ahead of your dreams and goals? This isn’t only for writers. Have you set aside going to college, getting an advanced degree, taking a vacation, buying underwear without holes because everyone seems to rank higher on the list?
Have you been conditioned to equate boundaries with being ‘mean’ or ‘selfish?’ Ever nearly killed yourself to help a friend, coworker, family member in crisis only to later realize you were completely used?
Been there more than a few times. Sigh.
Yet, I hope this post helps y’all can see you can be strong, powerful AND kind. In fact, *quick plug here* that is a HUGE part of what I’m going to be teaching in my new class Beyond Bulletproof Barbie. Making a woman bitter and mean doesn’t automatically make her stronger.
Oh, and Cait’s teaching Beyond the Princess Prodigy because chronic RBF offers no magical advantage. We can write a kick@$$ warrior with the strength to be imperfect.
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Treat yourself (at least half as well as you do others 😉 .
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You are SO invited to my place if you’re ever in Philadelphia PA (aka Philly).
Been there, done that so many times- especially since my husband has been a ‘nice guy’ since before we were married. I jumped on that particular train with him for many years, and then I noticed after I hopped off (that is another story entirely!), he was still riding it- and getting exhausted!
It took a lot of talk on my part (God gifted me with a big mouth and huge..um..lungs) and listening on his part for it to finally sink in. After 20 years of marriage, we are starting to say ‘no’ to others and yes to us- both together AND separately.
I cannot explain the depth of awesomeness that is us now. Even when life falls apart around us, we’re okay (or know we’re going to be okay). And let’s be honest here, many times he enabled people to lean on him too much- Superman does love him some citizen rescuing!
It wasn’t easy to say no to others. We always discuss it before saying yes or no now, so we’re on the same page. (Let’s just say some people would act like my kids and play us against each other- Ms. No vs. Mr. Yes)
Life isn’t perfect, but it sure feels a lot less stressful! 😉
And I’m serious about that invite! 🙂
Careful. I have been known to SHOW UP 😀 .
Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. It gives me hope that I too can make the shift to being less than superhuman and being okay with setting boundaries for myself.
Excellent post. I tend to need this reminder. I tell people I’m not nice but they don’t believe me…?
oh gads…over-commitment…took me two husbands and two decades to finally overcome that compulsion. And it extended from things I did, people in my life, and even hopes and dreams.
When the panic attacks took over, when I was too frozen to scream as the fist flew toward my face, when I finally said no by crashing as a person…
Everything changed. Boundaries were established. Criteria defined. My personality and values were rescued.
…sorry, hadn’t thought about this for several years…glad I can now choose when I want to be nice and why I want to help someone.
Thanks so much for this! I needed it. Normally I don’t stress about my messy house or arriving places a little late. But when life throws you curve balls (like an aging parent needing more and more care), the house gets messier and I’m later – if I even remember to go. Meanwhile, writing deadlines are looming. Something has to go. I’m going to have to cross a few things off my calendar.
What a great post, Kristen. I,too have a ‘nice’ problem. I worry that if I say ‘no’ the asker won’t like me. However, I tell myself that such people are users and real friends will accept it (and still like me) we shouldn’t worry about the users. They’re not worth it.
Love this post. So very true! You can be kind without feeling like you have to help everyone that asks for it. But I do feel guilty if I don’t. This post relates to my character, Charlie, in my YA Thriller book series. Her friends tell her to date a ‘nice'(boring) guy but Charlie loves Phin. Phin is not nice (he smokes, drinks, gambles and swears at the ones he loves the most) but he will fight to the death to protect the ones he loves too. Charlie sees the “warrior”.
Thanks for more excellent advice for writing and life! I need to remember to shelve the guilt a little more.
The Roadhouse connection made me laugh- awesome! The quote I generally remember from that one is “pain don’t hurt,” but your clip was probably more applicable. 🙂
Ah, the power of a polite but firm No (smiles beatifically).
Weirdly, it’s often hardest to say no to yourself – or at least, to the disapproving little voice in your head. I’ve found it helps to set myself base-line housework targets. If there are clean clothes to wear and clean plates to eat off, I’m doing ok. I don’t need to put my work on hold till the floor is spotless and the skirting-board is dusted etc ad nauseam.
Oh God, don’t get me started on the users who bust out the emotional blackmail because they know you’ll grit your teeth and roll up your sleeves as soon as they do. Though I’ll admit, I don’t do so because I’m nice, I do so because it’s less painful to put myself out that to put up with the endless complaints if I don’t…
Yes, yes, yes! Sometimes I do things purely to keep the peace!
Dear Kristen…you know your posts are exactly the same information and life-skills everyone could benefit from. Your humor and writing style/voice is unique and touches on a deeper level than you may think. Have you ever thought about giving your invaluable insights to a wider audience? I’m sure you have.
I have. I’d like to do a book with this sort of fun but practical ‘life advice.’ I work to make the blogs applicable to more than writers and actually do have a fan base of people who are not writers. Been pondering titles. Any suggestions? Areas of focus? What would you like in a book? Thanks so much for taking time to comment. You guys have NO idea how much I appreciate the time you take to encourage me and give me feedback. (((HUGS)))
Kristen, I’m now in no doubt you’re psychic!! Been struggling with someone constantly asking me to do something even after I’ve said I can’t, this morning I was wondering if maybe I should just say ‘yes’. Checked my emails and this was in my inbox!! So I shall stick to the ‘no’ and be proud *heh* At 54, after years of being ‘nice’, this is a steep learning curve but I’m determined to change it. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence played its part for sure… I wonder if being Asian had anything to do with it 😉 Love that you always use the stuff you personally struggle with, makes it very real and oh-so-authentic. Thank you!
Joy, I think we’re twins. I’m 54, tired of being “nice”, have low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence in many areas of my life. I’m not Asian, so maybe the reasons for how we ended up at this point are a little different, but we’re still sistas!
Thanks for this, Kristen! This is exactly what I’ve been talking to my counsellor about. I have rubbish boundaries, and kill myself being superhuman for everyone else, but my own writing is literally not happening. Trying to find some balance in my life. I swear, sometimes it’s like you’ve taken a tour inside my head, your posts are scarily on target. 🙂
I wish more people were kind instead of ‘nice.” I have a friend who does nothing but complains and much of it is her own fault for always bending over backward to do what everyone else wants. I’m trying to gently help her, with a little advice here and there.
I don’t want to overdo it though as there’s a boundary on when you become an !@$ and fall into preaching territory. I personally think her life would be 50% easier if she didn’t use a whining tone of voice with her daughter when she wants her to do something.
What can you do you know? People, in the end, have to figure stuff out for themselves.
I was taught to be a nice person but while growing up came to the same conclusion you did. Being nice stinks.
Kind people have good self-esteem as they love themselves as much as they care about others. Kind people expect to be treated with respect. Nice people are desperate for approval, so they’re often mistreated or taken advantage of. Respect isn’t a dirty word it’s the other side of teh love coin, with out respect there is no love or real kindness. I’m trying to teach my son this. Not sure if he gets it yet.
We are all a work in progress. Just keep growing 🙂 .