Every day, we dive headfirst into our schools, workplaces and the first thing we do is to surround ourselves with people.
We gossip about the latest trends. We discuss about the newest classes our kids are taking.
“Oh, Alex started playing the piano last week, how is George?” “Same old, same old, just going to that Arts class I’ve told you before. He’s now drawing …”
We talk about the game the night before – “Man, he was so close from scoring that jumper, I’m telling you. That would’ve been a winner for sure.” “Nah, they have no chance unless they trade…”
We stopped being “I”.
Humans are social creatures. The number of people who can survive without communicating and interacting with each other is slim to none. However, just because we tend to form, or join groups of people that we enjoy being with, it doesn’t mean it should be our whole purpose of living. There are times when we would ponder upon our purpose and reason for doing the things we are doing right now. We would wonder:
“Why am I applying to this firm?”
“Why am I joining this team?
“Why am I wearing this outfit?”
When we couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer, we would shake our head furiously to ignore and cast it to the back of our minds. Yet we must understand that no matter how hard we try to avoid thinking about it, one day the truth will come back and bite you.
The fact is, we try so hard to merge into a group, a community that when we sense that something we do would create or increase harmony, we would do it without questioning it. We try so hard to impress the people around us that we barricaded our own wants and desires. We stopped being “I” to make sure “we” are happy. But am “I” really happy?
Accept that we can’t control others’ opinions.
First and foremost, ask yourself: even if you are doing every single thing to make sure the people around you are happy, does that mean they won’t think otherwise? It might hurt to know, but people are easily swayed and judgmental. Your 120% might come across as a lack of effort to your boss. Your application to Penn might not be sufficient to get you a compliment from your parents because they went to Harvard. On the contrary, a design you drew up in 5 minutes might come across as a lifesaver to your classmate. A few words of encouragement might make your sister’s day.
Humans are versatile. They fluctuate. Trying to satisfy and impress everyone is the job of Sisyphus – a futile and fruitless one. Instead, accept that we simply can’t control opinions of others, work on the things we can actually control, such as the time and effort you pay in a job.
Just leave the rest be, and you’ll feel much freer.
Discover who “you” are.
This is easier said than done. As a child, I stumbled around, following my parents’ advice word to word. I learned piano because “it would be good for me”. I chose my high school because my counselor and teacher said it was academically competitive and had an accepting and warm student community. “You would like it there,” they said.
But we are not kids anymore.
When we were younger, we had the excuse of saying “we don’t know as much as the adults” – even though it was a weak one anyway. Now that we have grown up, we are responsible for our own choices and decisions. We have the ability to differentiate between things we like and things we don’t. We have the freedom to choose the things we enjoy doing. Don’t waste it. Take this chance to discover what you like. If you have no idea – try. Try new things. Rediscover old hobbies. I dropped piano when I was 15. I picked it up again recently because I realized the only reason I didn’t like it was because it was not something I chose on my own accord. I hope, with all sincerity, that you can find out who you are as well through this slow process of trying out different things.
Be yourself and love yourself.
The last step is perhaps the most difficult part because of how we are raised. We were taught to be selfless, to put others’ needs before our own. Being selfish is a crime, a sin.
It is not wrong. But it is not entirely right either.
Here is a simple analogy. Your family shares a television. Everyone would watch it at the same time. Therefore, to be fair, one person gets to decide what the family watches for the day, and the next person will decide the next day. Would you give up your right to decide what to watch to make your family happier?
There is no right or wrong answer. But remember: it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to root for yourself sometimes. Because how are you going to love someone if you don’t love yourself?
There is no one as important as yourself.
Yes, humans are social creatures. There is no denying that. But don’t get sucked into the never-ending loop of satisfying and impressing others and ignoring yourself. Gently, gradually, let yourself remind you that there is no one as important as yourself.
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