There was a time when the question, “Who do you think you are?” felt scary. Like I was somehow failing a life test that I didn’t even know I was taking. In those days, I felt I had to behave the way others expected if I was to be accepted into ‘the club’ of incomprehensible rules that were often unwritten but seemed to be somehow intuited by everyone else but me.
Life. Time. Falls. Summits. Fogs and frostbite. Found confidence. Lost fears. Attitude shifts. Perspective gained… Whatever the source, I have stepped out from the shadows of believing other people’s opinions of me matter most.
It was deadly. That worrying about what other people thought of what I was doing, the choices I made, the directions I took. It caused me pain. Confusion. Angst. Dissatisfaction. Uncertainty. Self-doubt.
Now I know the opinion that matters most to me is mine. Just as your opinion of yourself and what you’re doing matters most to you.
I’ve always kind of had a sense that this was important. But conditioning, environment, social constructs play a role in life.
For me, that role was to appear as a people pleaser on the outside all the while feeling defiant and angry on the inside.
Which left me constantly unsettled. And lying. To myself and to others.
A simple example… When asked, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” I’d often say, “I’m easy. I don’t care.”
I didn’t respond that way because I didn’t have a preference. It was because I was too afraid if I said what I preferred or wanted, I’d get shot down or someone would try to change my mind and the angst of what I perceived as displeasing someone by not changing my mind to suit theirs was debilitating.
The lie was in my silence and my non-committal attitude that constantly grated against my desire to be strong and truthful.
I can remember when my liberation from lies and acquiescence for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’ really took form.
It was in a therapy session in my early thirties. To illuminate just how debilitating and dishonest my need to please was, my therapist posed a hypothetical.
“It’s a hot summer’s day,” he said. “You want an ice cream. What flavor do you choose?”
I didn’t have to think about it long. “A lemon gelato.”
“I think you should get a chocolate one. It’s my favourite,” he responded.
“But, I really like lemon and it’s so refreshing.”
“Maybe. But chocolate is so yummy. Don’t tell me you don’t like chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate.”
I hesitated. I wasn’t all that fond of chocolate ice cream but it seemed easier to agree. “Sure I do.”
“Then why not have a chocolate one!”
I sighed. “But ice cream is so full of calories and gelato isn’t as bad.”
He laughed. “But it’s hot out and you deserve a treat, don’t you?”
And on and on it went. My justifying my choice. Him challenging me.
Finally, as I launched into another justification for my choice, he stopped me and said. “Do you see what’s going on here Louise?”
“I want lemon gelato and you think I should have a chocolate ice cream?”
“Bigger than that…”
I looked at him in confusion.
“Who cares what I want or think Louise? It’s your gelato. Your choice.”
And that’s when the truth hit me like a snowball getting the hell out of Dodge.
I spent a lot of time justifying my choices, my thoughts, my decisions, my ideas because I didn’t want people to think… well…. the truth is… I didn’t want people to know I had a mind of my own.
That would have been dangerous. With a mind of my own, I could become an outcast. An outlier. An unwanted.
I am forever grateful for that therapist and his love of chocolate ice cream.
Cultivating my courage to speak up, nurturing ‘the audacity’ to stand true to myself and letting go of worrying about other people’s opinions of me has been a life-long journey.
It gets easier with practice.
And always, the more practiced I become in standing in my truth and staying unattached to the outcome (including the opinion of others), the more I find myself growing wild and free.
I am Woman.
I am Me.