“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
~ Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay
For much of my life, I struggled to discover who I actually was.
I lost myself in relationships, in family and in friends. Instead of living the life that suited me, I became a chameleon, constantly changing to suit each environment and desperately trying to sit on each high pedestal that others had placed out for me.
I compared, compromised, blended and sold my soul time and again.
I frantically searched for answers to unlock the secret to my unhappiness and in doing so I accused, blamed, demanded and found replies in all the wrong places.
So, I turned it around on myself. If others weren’t at fault, was it I? I had choices. Everything that was in front of me was there because I, and I alone, had put it there. It was time to call myself out and to face up to myself.
Looking in the mirror I had no idea who I was. How could I possibly expect anyone else to value me when I was a confused and distorted mess, a mixture of everyone I had allowed to penetrate me, along with all the negative self-beliefs I had somehow inflicted on myself.
My insides ached with under-nourishment and I realised the reason for this was that I was not living the life destined for me, I was living for everyone else and was doing a pretty bad job of it.
I needed to change and in doing so, I needed to figure out how. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight—I had taken a long time to become who I was and to change, was going to be a process. Although I didn’t expect miracles, when I asked myself each of the following questions, I noticed immediate changes taking place on the inside.
1. Where do I want to be in five years time?
I looked at my relationships, my career, the area I lived in, my health and education. I thought about places I wanted to visit and all the things I wanted to experience. I realised that although some of these changes were not possible immediately, there were so many things I could work on one small step at a time.
I enlisted in courses, changed my eating habits, found new hobbies, read the books that I needed and focused more on cultivating important relationships. I didn’t set a destination for the outcome; instead I set a feeling.
2. How did I want to feel on the inside in five years time? Where would I be emotionally, physically, mentally?
I considered all the things in my life that weren’t healthy and how I could make the changes needed. I realised that nothing was out of reach and it was up to me to take control of my life and that anything was possible. When I didn’t add to much pressure by expecting instant gratification for the changes, I allowed everything take a natural pace so it sunk in. Instead of crashing and burning I slowly absorbed each new thing.
3. What bad habits do I need to stop?
I made a list and didn’t expect an overnight miracle. Instead I worked on them one by one. With some, I went cold turkey and others I phased out over time. For each one accomplished, I rewarded myself with something that was good for me instead. Alongside the list I added a replacement for each one. Something to look forward to at the end of each achievement.
4. What mistakes have I made today?
Instead of excusing or blaming my behaviour, I took responsibility. I made the decision to turn every negative into a positive. Each time I messed up, I confronted it face on. Why, what and how had these things happened? What would I do differently in the future? What have I learned?
I realised that I was stumbling over the same problems over and again and I would keep coming face to face with them until I accepted where I was going wrong. Whenever I made errors, bad judgements or was careless, I thought about what part I had played in allowing the mistake to happen.
I discovered that when I lived in the present moment, I was far less likely to keep tripping up. Although I still would, I would rectify things sooner and understand the reasons behind the mistakes. I also have learned that I will always, always make mistakes, regardless of how much I learn, and so I forgive myself each time and vow to try harder in future.
5. Who do I envy or admire? What qualities do these people have? In what way can I learn from them? What is it about them that inspires me?
I wrote down a list of the people that have the je ne sais quoi that strongly resonated with me. What elements was I drawn to? I wrote down all the characteristics that made those people what they were. I read their autobiographies and learned how they had succeeded and what steps they took to get where they were. I used the admiration to motivate me and to help me reach my own life goals.
I found that it was shared similarities that had drawn me to those people and I realised that I could set the bar however high I chose and then just take whatever necessary steps needed to get there. I learned so much through others from animal activists to successful entrepreneurs. Although I may not reach the same high levels with everything, I realised that my destiny was it my own hands, just as it had been in theirs, it was up to my how hard I was willing to work.
6. What stories have I told myself?
So much of my self-belief was bad conditioning. I had convinced myself that I was worthy of this and not worthy of that. In doing so I attracted all kinds of wrong people and rubbish into my life. I immediately made a conscious decision to stop filling my head with negativity about myself. I was unique, different and worthy of the very best life had to offer me. I just needed to keep telling myself this until it finally sank in and I believed it.
As soon as I unlearned all of the rubbish and relearned how magical I was, I began to attract exactly what I believed. My soul was a mirror and whatever was going on in the inside, was radiating out and attracting similar reflections. The more love I gave to myself, the more love I received back—I discovered that like attracts like.
7. Who do I love and who loves me?
I thought long and hard about those that I loved and those that loved me. Did I let them know what they meant to me? Was I making them a priority in my life? How could I spend more quality time with them and show them how valued and important they were? I realised that often I would take people for granted and assume they already knew their place in my life. I made a conscious decision to appreciate each one of them more and let know regularly with actions rather than just words.
8. If no one judged me, who would I be?
This is probably the most powerful question I asked myself.
It made me realise how much I was living a lie, living according to society’s expectations of me. So much of what I said and did on a daily basis was done to fit in line with high standards placed on me by people I didn’t even know. I realised my life was limitless. I could be whoever and do whatever I chose to be. Those that truly loved me would accept me all the same and those were the only ones that really mattered.
I realised that to live free from judgement, I also had to stop judging myself. I stopped caring about what people thought about me and started caring about what I thought about myself, about what I needed to do to be fulfilled and also what made me happy on the inside. When I went places, I stopped caring if people liked how I dressed, what I said, or valued my opinions.
We are all different and we are never going to be accepted by everyone.
Someone, somewhere will always disapprove regardless of how hard we try. I stopped trying to please the masses and instead worked on pleasing the only person that really mattered—myself.
As soon as I mastered this, other people’s opinions and judgement faded from my thoughts and I no longer cared. As long as I believed in myself and trusted that I was living as morally and ethically as I could, the judges—I truly couldn’t give a f**k about. It was liberating and refreshing and simply the best and most loving thing I ever did for myself.
I started asking myself these questions on a daily basis and each day, I found new answers.
I realised I was trapped in an existence that I didn’t like, and yet, I already had all of the answers to free myself. It was that simple. These questions transformed my life completely, I didn’t just feel different, I became a different person.
I became me.
Bonus: Byron Katie is the ultimate pro at suggesting mindful powerful questions to ask ourselves:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Alexsandra Myles
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: David Dodge/Flickr