By Sharon Cleere, Author, Namaste Rainbow!
After graduating college I felt a tremendous pressure to immediately find a “successful” and “high-paying” job. This pressure came from professors, parents and other graduates but more than this it came from myself buying into the idea that if I had money and had a stable job this would make me happy.
So sure enough, despite knowing this was not what I wanted, I quickly found an office job doing legal work. From the initial interview I felt like was pretending to be someone I was not: detail oriented, highly analytic, and systematic, passionate about law. Turns out I am very good at pretending; I was quickly promoted. At times, I think I even fooled myself into thinking this was my calling because I was making decent money and receiving praise from others. Yet, every day I entered the office I felt an ache deep inside. From some perspectives I may have appeared successful, I was more unhappy than I had ever been.
As the days went on, the facade of being a happy office manager was fading. I was on a slippery slope into becoming a bad employee. I was constantly drifting, my head was in the clouds, and I was daydreaming the work hours away instead of being focused on the task at hand. Often, as I was drafting legal documents I would stop halfway through because I would have an idea for a poem or a story that I just had to jot down. I felt guilty that my attention was divided. I cared about the law firm I worked for, they were doing great things for good people and wanted to offer them the best that I could but it was coming at the cost of losing who I truly was.
At this point in my life I came to a harsh realization that I had a bad habit of making big life decisions based on what I thought would make others happy, or what they thought would make me happy. I truly thought that this approval was what I wanted. I thought “I want what others want of me.” I wanted to do what they wanted; my parents, my romantic partner, my friends, my professors, my colleges. It killed me when I felt any sort of disapproval from the one’s I cared about. While I am genuinely a people pleaser no one should lose themselves for the sake of another. To do so is a disservice to yourself and others because you deprive the world of your full potential.
When I had done all of the things that society and my social circle had told me would make me successful and happy, I felt neither. I knew I had to figure out what would bring happiness and success into my life by my own definition. But when I finally asked myself the question “what do I want,” I didn’t know the answer. I had spent too much time trying to figure out “what should I do” that I stopped asking “what do I want to do.”
So I started by trying to eliminate what I didn’t want. I quit my job and decided to dedicate time try and effort into understanding myself and finding the answer to the question “what do I want?” With this, surprisingly, came a lot of guilt. The narrative in my head was: “You can’t just stop being the person everyone else knows you to be,” and “you can’t let go of the illusion of success in the face of others.” Doing things because I wanted them or not doing things because I didn’t want them wasn’t a good enough reason for other people and it wasn’t a good enough reason for me… YET. But it had to be good enough for me because I had exhausted what others had wanted for me and that wasn’t working.
So if I couldn’t answer the question: “what do I want?” I was stuck. I had to do some exploring: I tried new things, I met new people, I meditated, I gave myself space and time to discover myself.
Turns out when I wasn’t writing legal documents or working in an office or getting bent out of shape trying to please others, my creativity was able to reach its full capacity. Instead jotting an idea for a poem or a story down when I could squeeze in the time, I was able to write them as they came. I started writing all the time. A part of myself that I had suppressed throughout school and my professional career was finally unleashed.
It had occurred to me that writing was something I had wanted to do even as a child. I was always making up stories to tell my friends, logging them in journals and had even gotten my degree in journalism so I could tell stories.
But somewhere down the line I had lost this part of myself and by asking what do I want I was quickly establishing it. Now I make it a habit to be conscious of whether or not I am doing things from a place of authenticity or if I am doing them for the sake of others and their approval. Sometimes I fall back into the old habit of pleasing others, but this never lasts long. Cat Steven’s song father & Son does a marvelous job of explaining why when he says “all the times that I cried, keeping all the things I new inside, its hard but it’s harder to ignore it, if they were right, id agree but its them you know not me.”
Take time to know yourself, trust your instinct and let that be your guide. If you do this, approval of the people who matter the most will follow.