Yesterday, we discussed the eternal internal struggle so many of us deal with every day–do we make our own choices and create our own happiness, or do we let the judgments and opinions of other people (and even society) dictate our major life decisions?
So often, we’re so afraid of what might happen if we don’t bend to the will of others that we never feel safe in making our own choices. What will they think of us? What will they say? Will they think we’ve all turned into huge jerks?!?
Thirty-seven year old Kate, for example, says that her father has always dictated her life choices. He pressured her to attend his alma mater and to follow in his footsteps in her choice of career. He bought her a home next door to his own for her college graduation gift, got her a job at his firm, and steered her toward a specific man when he thought it was time for her to get married. He has essentially made (or manipulated her into making) every major life decision for her–and she is angry.
Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?
Kate, a 37 year old woman who is capable of taking care of herself financially and physically, feels that if she doesn’t do what her father thinks she should, she will be abandoned by him, physically and emotionally. Kate admits that she fears that he father won’t love her any more if she doesn’t do what he says is right–and that deep down, she believes that she is obligated to play by his rules because she would be Alone In the World without his support.
Do you recognize Kate?
Kate seems to have a problem that many people have–she’s a people pleaser. She has learned to base her own self-acceptance on the acceptance of other people in her life. Jay Earley, Phd says that being a people pleaser is a learned behavior, usually starting early in childhood.
“Often, parents will simply tell kids what to do and never encourage them to assert themselves,” Earley says. “When the kids obey, the parents give them conditional love.”
Time to Make a Choice
Here’s the bottom line–if you want to be happy, you must look inside of yourself to find out what you truly desire. And then, you must go after it–regardless of who it’s going to piss off.
Easier said than done, I know…but what’s the alternative? Living a life that’s been designed and approved by someone other than you. Pick your poison, folks.
Be happy and follow your heart, or do whatever someone else says you should do–and deal with the consequences. If you choose to be happy and to make your own choices, I applaud you (not that you need my approval or anyone else’s)–and here are a few tips to help you get started.
Get Some Perspective
Honestly, what is the worst thing that will happen if you make a choice that someone else disagrees with? In most cases, there may be a brief period of discomfort in the relationship with that person before he or she accepts your decision. Of course, there are some people who would actually cut you out of their lives for such an infraction–but those are the people who love or like you only conditionally. (“If you do what I think you should, then I’ll love you” kind of people.)
Do you really want people like that having so much control in your life? Evaluate the relationship. Is it toxic?
Believe What You’re Saying (and Doing)
One of the biggest reasons people feel comfortable in telling you what to do with your life is that you accept (and expect) that they will. That causes you to doubt your own inner voice–you know, the one that tells you what you need to be happy.
Next time you make an unpopular choice in your life, do so with confidence, and when or if you choose to share your decision with someone who criticizes it, be prepared to smile and say something like, “I understand and appreciate your concern, but I’ve thought this through and have chosen ____________ carefully.” And then leave it at that.
When you acknowledge and are grateful for the fact that the person cares enough to tell you his or her opinion, he or she might feel validated and accept your choice a little more gracefully. Remember: you’re not asking for permission or approval. You’re stating a fact–this is a choice that you have made. End of discussion.
Take a Cue from Earl
If you’ve ever seen the TV show, My Name is Earl, then you’ll know what I mean. At first glance, Earl looks like a former convict who lives in a cheap motel and shares a bed with his brother. But if you take a second look, you’ll notice something special about him. He observes the people and situations around him, but he never judges or belittles them. He doesn’t react negatively–he just observes.
Remember that like attracts like–so if you focus on judging or disapproving of people and situations in your own life, you’re likely to find that people judge or disapprove of you and your situation. Focus instead on accepting other people around you, and you’ll find yourself more accepted by others.
Speaking of accepting people, how about extending the same courtesy to yourself? If you’re secretly judging and disapproving of your own choices, you need to figure out why. Is it because you’re doing something that you believe is wrong? If so, you need to reevaluate your motivations and figure out why.
Is it because someone else thinks what you’re doing is wrong, even though you’re happy doing that? If so, it’s time to stand up and be who you are–and to be happy about it. People who love you will be happy that you’re happy.
What do you think?