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I will never forget the day I allowed the opinions of others to shape my life for the first time.
I stood in the fenced-in schoolyard on the first day of second grade.
I remember the tan brick school building to my left as I watched groups of children chatter about. The sky was gray. It was still warm, leftovers from the August heat. My feet fidgeted as I used my finger to slide my too-big-for-my-face brown glasses up my nose toward my eyes. I was not used to wearing glasses.
My beautiful, blonde-haired mother took me for my first pair of glasses the day before school began. She talked excitedly about how smart I would look with my new glasses.
I glanced in the mirror before I left that morning, and I didn’t look smart at all.
I knew these children. I’d gone to school with them for two years prior. In addition, we all lived in the same neighborhood. I played with them at the playground, yet I couldn’t move from the spot where my mother dropped me off. I just stood there, not moving.
What would they think of my new glasses? Would they still like me? Do they even recognize me? Fear boiled within and wrapped chains around my ankles to keep me in my place. I couldn’t even talk myself out of it. I was stuck with no hope of escaping.
It was like the other children could sense my fear as they started to make their way over to where I stood. They formed a perfect circle around me. They held hands so I couldn’t escape. With me standing oddly dead center of the circle, they called me four-eyes and sang a song that no one loved me. They made sure to add into the song that my parents weren’t coming to pick me up so I would be all alone forever—what the heck?
That was the beginning of the fear I carried within me for years.
As I grew up, that fear clung around every thought, haunting every move I ever made. Ever since that day, I was always worried about what people thought about me.
I lived my life, not for myself but for others’ approval, until I woke up one day and didn’t know whose life I was actually living.
Generally, people who seek the approval of others are insecure and have low self-esteem, among many other things—yup, that sounds about right.
I needed to decide whether I would keep living this way or take back my life. This is how I broke free and began living my life for myself.
First, I needed to figure out who I actually was. I went to college, landed a job, got married, and had some children. I mean, isn’t that what was expected of me?
I was that person who generally went along with anything or anybody. I hardly had my own opinions. I didn’t have a lot of strong beliefs. I learned early on that if I kept my mouth shut, everyone would like me. But then…who was I?
So I took time away from the world. I broke up with social media. I worked on figuring out who I was without allowing the world to have any sort of opinion on it. That included saying no to things I had no interest in. That also included saying yes to things I normally wouldn’t agree with. I had to try everything and anything to see what stuck. Slowly but surely, I was creating myself—the life that I wanted.
I worked on being authentic. I no longer only showed people a certain side of myself, but I revealed all of myself, genuinely. This required getting over that fear of being different from everyone else. I discovered that “being different” is actually kick-ass cool, and I wouldn’t want to be anything other than myself.
I set standards for what I would accept in my life. That included what I valued and desired. I was just as entitled to have my own values and desires as any other person.
I learned to do things that scared me. One of my favorite sayings is, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” Someone once told me dreams should be bigger than our capacity to achieve them. This opens our world to something bigger. There are no limits on what we are capable of achieving.
I continued to grow and improve. I educated myself in my career to keep myself sharp and knowledgeable. I read everything I could get my hands on to improve my life, mind, and imagination. I worked on areas of my life to be better. And I kept an open mind to continue to grow.
I focused on what mattered. Not what mattered to everyone else but what mattered to me. I stopped trying to please everyone. I did things just to do them and not for the external reward.
I stopped overthinking. I went on about my business and didn’t second-guess my decisions. And, as long as I lived my life as a good person, I had no reason to second-guess myself and my choices.
Last but not least, I didn’t hold back. If I felt it, I said it. If I showed it, I wouldn’t hide it. I took away the fear that was within, and I kicked its ass.
I was finally becoming who I was meant to be…
We have this one shot in life, and we don’t get a do-over. The time we have is now—and only now.
Why not be yourself? Say what you want to say. Be what you want to be. No matter what anyone thinks, be you because you are amazingly perfect as you are.
Living for ourselves is choosing a life of strength, independence, and serenity.
We have the power to create our lives in whatever direction we choose. Our lives are in our hands—don’t ever give it to anyone else.