We wouldn't worry so much about what others think of us if we only realized how seldom they actually do.― Eleanor Roosevelt
Ain't that the truth. I've spent a large majority (pronounced "all") of my first 36 years making decisions based upon what I thought others might think. It was like I had a peer-pressure seeing-eye dog sitting in my head that would play out the scenario of what I would assume would be other people's responses then this dog would not only guide my next move, but it would talk a pretty good argument toward whatever would be the most accepted... not even acceptable, but merely accepted. I would use this tactic in nearly every decision making opportunity. What will they think if I start dancing? Should I wear jeans and a t shirt around this crowd or trendier clothes? What music should I play while driving down the street with my windows down? Who is in this meeting and do I have the clout against their pay grade to speak out?
And here is the kicker; no one dictated any of this to me. The determination of what was accepted by others was defined only by me. The same brain that defined it was crushed under the scrutiny of it. It wasn't like a coworker took me aside and said "you know, you should only use 2 metaphors in any given meeting or it will be perceived that you are trying too hard". My wife never said "I would find you much sexier if you didn't tell so many stories during dinner" (far from it, actually). But that was what my brain was projecting that they would say. I was deciding what other people wanted of me, changing my behavior to align with it, and then assuming (as dear Eleanor stated) that they actually noticed. It is a tango between insecurity and narcissism.
One day, I was asked "What are your passions?" Strip away the "shoulds" and expectations (both self imposed and perceived) and simply state what makes my heart sing. I'm not sure if the sound in the room was more of a needle scratching across a record or more of a jackknifing 18-wheeler after all of the tires fell off, but I believe the guy running the jackhammer a few streets over turned to his buddy and said "Dude, was that you?". It was monumental. I realized that I didn't know my passions. My god, what DO I love to do? to be? to follow? to champion? I was flabbergasted and quickly developed a desperation to discover those answers. That was an "a-ha" moment that have made Oprah say "whoa".
Just realizing that I don't know what makes me tick because my decisions were always guided based upon what I assumed others thought (remember, almost never did anyone else actually set these standards) was huge yet only the first step. I had 36 years of momentum behind me. An aircraft carrier with that path behind them doesn't u-turn on a dime. However, over the past few years, I've worked hard on shedding expectations - both those that I impose upon myself and those that I may (or may not) actually receive from others. Its not easy and requires a strong practice in bravery to put myself out there, disregard the opinions of others and simply rely upon my best intentions, which fortunately are usually enough to get by on where experience can't take you.
Its funny how all of these life-lesson themes seem to tie together. Looking back at some of my other posts, this one linked to "shoulds", "Its all about me", and "living in the moment". Through navigating this core issue that I honed those lessons. Its like the whole arm-chair psychology section of the bookstore are just different chapters of the same book. Maybe it is a conspiracy among the therapist-come-author community where they know there is just one major convoluted issue and they split it up so they can all publish a paperback. I'm on to them.
It has been a slow peeling back of those layers of "should" but they are sloughing off, sure enough. I am trusting in it more and discovering what it is that makes me tick. Sure, it is scary to put myself out there and risk the scrutiny but you know what? It hasn't backfired on me yet.