A young woman kisses her husband goodbye as she heads off to work. She thinks nothing of his subtle coldness towards her on the cool October morning. On her way out, she receives a phone call from her sister. “When are you going to wake up? Do you realize he’s cheating on you?” A chill passes through her body. It can’t be. Don’t panic, she tells herself, and decides to go back to the house and see for herself. Sure enough, a pretty young girl is at the door ringing the bell. I stop dead in my tracks.
A little background into my personal story: I moved to the US from Russia in 1996, the year the Yankees won the world championship. From one standpoint it was exciting, the lifestyle here was luxurious as compared to where we came from. The choices for food were endless and we actually didn’t have to stand in line for bread for once. After settling in, I started attending school and immediately felt different. I had to learn the language and start from scratch, make new friends and try to fit in as best I could. This was quite a significant and traumatizing change for my eleven year old self.
Going forward, I was always acutely aware of how I appeared to others. This self-created complex followed me all the way to my adult years. How did this hold me back? By constantly worrying about what other people might think of me and in turn influencing my decisions, big and small.
I used to think I was completely independent and practicing my own free will, at the time when I got my first real nursing job. I thought money was what gave me that independence. I was partially right and partially a prisoner of my own mind. How can one be truly considered free and independent if their decisions in life are dependent upon others’ opinions (what to wear, how to smell, what job to take, which college to attend)? Think about it, the last time you had to make a decision to pick out of two choices, what was the thought process, what were your arguments to yourself that led you to choose the thing you chose?
The Precious Self-Image
Another object which may tend to hold us back from growth is our perceived self-image. Our perceptions of ourselves on the surface are amazing and perfect. We then like to go and seek acknowledgements of this perfection, of how great and amazing and caring we are. We find proof with confirmations of others’ opinions, with external evidence (e.g. compliments, medals, awards, praise, etc.) and without any disconfirming evidence. If any such disconfirming evidence comes at us we cringe and reject it. For example, when being yelled at by the boss, our body automatically resists, because this is going against what we believe ourselves to be, perfection and liked by all, or at least what our mind wants to think. Which is why doing everything to please the boss may be going against your own wants and needs.
Here’s a tip: this people-pleasing mentality is actually crippling. It is going against our very own nature, against our very own values and goals. All because we are constantly concerned of what others think of us, most of the time even strangers! But sooner or later this will come out of the shadow and bite, hard.
Giving Up Control
What I used to care about, and still struggle with, are the opinions of others and pleasing others. I decided one day that in order to fit in I’ll do my best to be liked by everyone I meet. But what is that opinion that I was so worried about? It is a thought in someone else’s head. A figment of someone else’s imagination. And there goes my delusional “independent, free-willed” self. I was letting someone else have power over me! For example, I used to have my nails done all the time. When I couldn’t do it anymore, when the kids were born and I gave up that time for them, I’d have mild anxiety and actually be upset over it. Upset over not having my nails done! Why? For fear that someone might think I’m a slob, unkempt and unladylike. I would then spend at least an hour of my precious time painting my nails at 11pm, after the kids were asleep, in my bed, hunched over, back aching, right before falling asleep in an uncomfortable position to prevent the nail polish from smudging. All for the sake of pleasing others.
Recognizing and Conquering a Weakness
I will never forget that feeling of complete letdown, of utter disappointment and giving up on the idea of what I thought was an amazing, fulfilling relationship, after waking up from the horrific dream. Where is this coming from? After pondering for some time, it came to me. I have started on a new venture several weeks back and ever since then I’ve been seeking approval, subconsciously, from my friends, family, spouse, and even co-workers. The negative responses nearly had me give up, multiple times. Could others’ approval of my life choices really have such a strong influence on which direction I choose to go? Just like I gave up on the relationship (in my dream), I was about to give up on my dream career in reality.
This kind of thinking is what holds us back. It holds us back from achieving our dreams and living a truly fulfilling life. The key point here is that if you have a vision, of where you want your life to be, recognize that your biggest enemy is actually YOU. But it’s ok to be different! It’s ok if others think you sound foolish by going for something you believe is amazing and meaningful!
I don’t hold it against those who doubt me anymore. I now realize that they don’t have my vision and they don’t know how truly determined I am to accomplish this. A big achievement always has to start small, a thirty foot tree doesn’t just sprout up from the ground in one day.
Why You Don’t NEED Others’ Approval
The self improvement ideas I had and put into action have been successfully improving and at the same time simplifying my life (cutting on spending, budgeting, decluttering the house, learning positive parenting techniques, etc). So why was I still seeking approval for my decisions? I now realize it was all for validation. But isn’t the positive result of a project validation itself? It seems that we tend to complicate life with things and actions which we believe will actually improve our lives. Caring what others think of my budget or spending habits, or my messy house, or my getting rid of credit cards (“OMG what if there’s an emergency!!!”-yes, if the tornado takes me, so be it, credit cards won’t help) used to bring extreme anxiety.
Why did I have that horribly unpleasant dream from which I woke up almost kicking my husband off the bed for? I was losing my own self-acceptance because an important person in my life was doubtful about an important life-changing decision I’ve recently made. My husband wasn’t comfortable with the idea of switching careers. After all, from his perspective, I have spent over eight years as a nurse. Such a change sounds scary and involves venturing into unknown territory. A place we naturally tend to avoid like the plague. What we don’t realize is that that kind of negative thinking pattern will keep us from succeeding in anything great. It will keep us living at the average level. Living an average life, never really growing to our full potential.
I am still working on grounding myself in my own values and re-learning to accept and actually go after my goals and dreams, no matter how others perceive this. It has been difficult but extremely rewarding. At times I have doubts, but my vision gets me back up and keeps me going.
After all, rejection doesn’t have to hurt me, because I don’t reject myself.
Author: Tiffany Olson