Most of us are taught early on to conform, which eventually leads to our sad induction into the sheep herd — and you know no strays are allowed there. That bloody dog is trained to shove any sheep with a mind of her own back in line ASAP.
Hanging on the wall in front of me is a document entitled: Regrets People Have When They Face the End of Their Lives. I didn’t make up this list, but recognize it as the most valuable of life lessons. I typed, framed, and hung it in front of my face because I frequently need this reminder of what’s REALLY important. I get distracted easily.
REGRET #1: Making choices in life based on what was expected instead of what they really wanted. This is huge and has pretty much defined my entire life. Doing what was expected meant I’d probably fit in, and the need to belong has apparently trumped all good sense.
Early life lesson: Water skiing was our passion before parenthood, and at one point our boat group organized an actual ski race. I was reluctant because fear was immediate, but I caved. The pressure to join the “fun” was steady. As our boat approached 50 mph, fear doubled. I could no longer control the shimmy of the ski beneath me and leaning farther back to dig in was no longer possible. My desperate hand signals to slow down were basically ignored by the driver, my loving husband. He wanted to win. I hit head first but, oooh, had no idea that something so soft could be so hard. You’ve walked full force under a tree limb without ducking, right? I bobbed up, bikini barely hanging on — top half bunched up into armpits, bottoms clinging to ankles, head pounding. “Was I all right? they shouted. Well… no. But I was lucky, escaping with a mere headache, no hospital time, and plenty of campsite fame. Hard earned lesson: listen to self. The all powerful desire to be accepted or cool, in an instant overrode my own instincts.
I guess my early lesson wasn’t lesson enough, because it wasn’t the last time I compromised myself to do what was expected. Like lots of folks, I’ve agreed to do things solely because I didn’t want to disappoint. I’ve cleaned the house before company came so they wouldn’t think I was as messy as I really am. I’ve smiled and pretended I liked something when….. well, you know. I’ve known women who even had babies just because their friends did. After all, it was the thing to do.
Changing mindsets and perspectives are not simple life tweaks, but they’re important steps toward relieving stress and leading a more satisfying life. Thankfully, the older I get the less I worry about what others think. Whenever I stop making choices based on how I look to others, and this is important, I start tuning in more to what it is that I really want. Oddly, being yourself isn’t automatic. At least for some of us.