“All you really have is yourself” – something I’ve said to myself many times, although has changed meaning as I’ve gotten older.
This statement has been a life motto in both of my loneliest moments, my most confusing, and my most successful. I’ve uttered this statement to myself when I have felt I had no one to lean on. On the other hand, though, this statement has felt true when surrounded by others- in particular, the opinions of others. Now, this statement illuminates my path in life in a beautiful way.
I’ve spent a lot of my life worrying about the perceptions of other people. Many small and big life decisions we’re based on how other people I would feel/think, or what I thought was for the greater good of those around me. Maybe it’s the southerner in me, or maybe it’s common among women. Maybe I’m just recovering people pleaser simply because that’s just who I was. Regardless, it took me longer than I’m proud to admit to realize that I wasn’t living life for myself. The way I dressed, spoke, just generally my way of being was based on obtaining approval from those around me. I never truly felt like myself – I knew something was missing, but lacked courage to find it.
We do have obligations to those around us – I have a responsibility to respect those around me, to consider my husband as an equal, and act within my son‘s best interest. Notice that pleasing everyone all of the time it’s not on that list, because I do have a responsibility to honor myself as well.
As with everything in life, it’s a delicate balance. If everything around me faded away and it was just me standing here, I would still know who I am as a person at this point in my life. I have become this person within the context of my surroundings of course, but all I’m guaranteed for the rest of my life is myself. Too many people drown themselves completely in the sea of their social life – they become whoever they’re with. When those people are alone, who are they? When I stopped sacrificing myself to the opinions of those around me, I stopped feeling lonely. Now, I can be alone and feel secure in myself. Ironically, reminding myself of that statement is what has helped me not feel lonely anymore. I can actually lean on myself, trust in myself, listen to myself.
My decisions, my boundaries, and who I am as a person will definitely not please everyone around me. Additionally, I don’t owe it to anybody outside of my husband and my son to base major life decisions on. Five years ago, I found myself feeling very unhappily stuck in the middle of a career decision fully based on honoring someone else. I tried to convince myself to stick it out – that it was my duty. I felt like my entire life‘s purpose was meant to right the world’s wrongs in some way. I devoted my entire life to a cause that felt bigger than myself, and that felt really good for a while. At some point, though, I realized I never truly lived for myself. I missed out on so much that life had to offer because I was so wrapped up in grounding my life in what mattered outside of myself. It took me too long to accept that what’s within myself was also important – that I had an identity all on my own.
Since then, I’ve become more successful than I’ve ever been. I don’t only mean that I’ve become more successful in my career – I’m more motivated, more revitalized in life overall. I have more than I ever could on my old life path. The amount of energy I spent on thinking of other people that truly didn’t matter, I now spend on bettering myself in some way and becoming more authentic. I feel more decisive and more confident in this path I chose for myself. Coincidentally, I think I will actually make more of an impact in the world considering what feels right for me as a person versus constantly trying to be who I thought the world wanted me to be. When I start to feel myself get anxious about somehow disappointing someone or not living up to some sort of expectations of me, I remind myself – all I really have (to please) is myself, within limitations of course.