“That’s just not what we do!”
How to shake the yoke of other people’s expectations
I was having a conversation with Andie, a wonderful gal in my group coaching program, and we were talking about giving Love Lists and sending audio notes to friends and family.
She said something that really struck me: “That’s just not what we do.”
I knew what she meant immediately. That royal “we” means my family, my community, the people around me, my colleagues — basically, anyone who might be within judging distance.
Living under the threat of being judged by others is like always wearing a yoke and pulling a heavy load. We can’t feel free to simply be ourselves and do or say the things that might naturally want to emerge from us.
I know this place intimately.
After Andie said that phrase, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started thinking about my own story of depression and anxiety — how 30 years ago it felt to me like this heavy iron wall was closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to go on.
Looking back, I think that iron wall was the weight of all of the “shoulds” I lived under. How I should talk. How I should act. How I should think. The career I should have. How much money I should earn.
I was being crushed under all of the expectations for who and how I should be. Many of them weren’t even being voiced anywhere except in my own head. I had internalized so much about “the ways people should be.” I saw so many discrepancies between who I was and how I thought people should be. I didn’t know how to escape from the pressure.
All I knew was that I always felt like the wrong person.
There was a girl inside me who really wanted out, but I kept squashing her down because she didn’t seem to fit into the world I lived in. Yet, really, I didn’t fit into that world. Everything just felt square-peg-round-hole to me.
As I’m looking back 30 years, I feel so much compassion for that girl. As strange as it sounds, she simply didn’t know how to be herself.
I’ve been thinking about her a lot, and about anyone who might be stuck living in that “just-not-who-we-are box.”
One of the biggest regrets people have on their death beds, according to palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, is this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This is my wish for everyone!
To that end, here are a few steps to take to start to come out of hiding, shake off expectations and celebrate who you really are:
Get quiet and listen
The first step to living who we are is knowing who we are. Before we can shed some of the layers of conditioning from other people, we can benefit from spending some time by ourselves — in meditation, journaling or out in nature. This gives that quiet voice inside of us a chance to speak to us. Remember, when she speaks, don’t be mean or judgy! Listen with love!
Follow the sparks
Pay attention to what lights up a little around you. I call them pinpricks of light or sparkles. Are you drawn to that pink ukulele? Does that Italian class call to you? Do you feel like trying on those crazy cat’s eye glasses? Whatever seems to spark for you, give it your attention. Run toward it. Don’t turn away because these are whispers from the real you.
Find a kindred spirit
Once you start to understand a little about who you are and how you want to be in the world, keep your eyes out for a kindred spirit or two. When you see one, try to catch her eye and befriend her. It can mean everything to us to have someone in our life who “gets us.” Someone who will go to that costume party with us or who will spend the afternoon collecting rocks to paint. We don’t have to go it alone. We can become more of who we are in the company of people who are like the “me we want to be!”
Push the envelope
The next step in your evolution of being you is to practice pushing against the edges of your comfort zone. Yep, I know you long to wear that fringed jacket, but you imagine you’ll feel weird in it. Well, so what?! Feeling weird is temporary. Once we understand that, we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We can push the envelope on who we’ve been and really start to lean into some awesome new ways of being.
Accept the opposites
Don’t let it bother you if one day you feel courageous and sign up for that photography class, and then the next day you can’t imagine walking into that class and feeling okay. Just know that the pendulum will be swinging back and forth. Trust your gut. If your gut said, “Please, oh, please sign up for that class.” then take your lovely gut to that class when it is time. The rest of you will catch up, I promise.
Rinse and repeat
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Er, well, actually we’re not going for perfection of any kind. But…practicing these steps over and over will help you shake off that yoke of “shoulds” and feel light, free and exactly like YOU.
P.S. This is the perfect time to remember what Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”