“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
When I look back on my life, I’m pretty appalled at how much of my life decisions were made without thought or reflection. What to study. How to act. What to say. What not to say. What to try. What to reject. All of those decisions, big or small, add up to me moving in a particular direction to become a particular person.
But it was all good. Right?
True, it’s been a good life. But not an authentic life. The problem was that I was living the life that I thought I should live, instead of the one that I needed to live.
And I’ve learned I’m not alone.
We all grow the same in the sense that we absorb the rules and expectations from society, our family and friends. Along the way, we even develop our own rules and expectations and we usually don’t even stop to question our numerous assumptions. Those assumptions then shape us as we develop around those boundaries.
Most of those assumptions are good and true. We want the rules of the road and a civilized society. However, the rules that are personal and important, whether big or small, should also be made with the same care that (most of) the rules of civilized society are made. Instead, those personal rules are often just adopted unconsciously from without or within and then never questioned.
Here are some unconscious rules that we may live by:
- I should never do anything to upset someone else
- I can never let someone down or disappoint them
- I should always do what I think my (spouse, parent, employer) wants me to do
- I deserve to always have the best
- I need to feel right
- I need to feel better than others
- I need to always appear (smart, competent, attractive, successful)
- I need to believe that others are better or more deserving
- I can’t let others know who I really am
- I can never be loved for who I am
- I will never be (successful, liked, attractive, loved)
- I will always be (uncoordinated, stupid, irrelevant, unlovable)
- I’m responsible for someone else’s (happiness, success, feelings)
- I shouldn’t show others that (I need them, I can’t handle it, I approve of them)
- I should always present a happy face
- I must be vigilant
- I can’t trust others
What I’ve learned is there is a grain of truth to all of our beliefs. But the problem occurs when we turn that grain into a desert, where pretty soon we’re overcome by our so-called truth until we feel smothered, isolated and barren.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – Joseph Campbell
I believe the trick is to bring all of our assumptions to the light, and then question them. Replace “I should” with “I shouldn’t” and explore the truth of that statement of opposite. Then go back to the original statement and flip the verb or adjective to it’s opposite. So, “I should always present a happy face” becomes “I shouldn’t always present a happy face” and then, “I should always present a sad face.”
If you take this exercise seriously you can find the truth in all three statements, even if it’s just a tiny grain of truth. Then you can see that we have nuance and options, and we don’t have to stick with the same, tired repertoire. Having choice that is conscious and free from undue influence is liberating, and opens us our authentic self and the life that is waiting for us.
Lead your life. Literally. That life may surprise and delight you.
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” ― Joseph Campbell