We’ve been subconsciously asking for permission our entire lives. Our teachers gave us grades in school, giving us permission to feel intelligent and accomplished, or not. Our peers told us which table to sit at lunch, which gave us permission to either feel popular or kind of popular or like we had just enough friends or like we were in the lame group. Our employment after college or lack thereof gave us permission to feel a certain way about our overall success so far in life.
Up until this point, people have been giving us cues on how to behave. They’ve been giving us permission to feel a certain way about ourselves. They’ve told us what classes to take and what sports to play and what college to apply to and what organizations to join. They told us what jobs to go after when we graduated and they told us where to live and what kind of apartment to get and how to set up a respectable lifestyle.
We’ve been told what kind of people we should try and date. We’ve been told how long we should “hold out” for someone, who to go on a second date with, when we should ignore someone and when we should be up front with our feelings. We’ve been conditioned to think there’s a right way and a wrong way to meet someone. Date someone. Get engaged to someone. Marry someone. There are formulas we’re expected to follow. Everything has been done already, in one specific right way, and we’re expected to follow it.
We’ve been making all our decisions on our own. But not really. We choose where we live and who we work for and how to dress and who we date and what we share online and what we do with our free time. But we also don’t. Because oftentimes, we choose things based on a preconceived idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not. We choose things based on how we think other people will react, and what they’ll say about us. We choose things with everyone else in mind except ourselves.
It’s one of the most dangerous things in the world.
It can lead to fear and self-loathing and an inability to do anything at all, because all we can think about is the reaction of everybody else. Without even realizing it, we can spend our whole life doing nothing, because we’re so afraid of what other people will say. Sure, we can show up to a job every day and pay our bills and technically be a contributing member of society. But if we’re avoiding anything that we truly want to do just because we’re afraid, then we might as well say that we’re doing nothing.
Worrying about the opinion of others can be paralyzing, but it’s also pointless. Most of the time, they’re not thinking about you anyway. Maybe that sounds harsh, but for me, that realization was one of the most freeing things in the world.
People are so busy worrying about their own lives and their own status and what everyone else thinks of them that they don’t have that much time to think about you. If they do judge you or say something negative about you, you’ll be the only one obsessing over it months later. Because they have long forgotten it.
It’s hard to completely not care about what other people think, and I’m not sure anyone in the world has ever reached that point. But it’s not about being completely carefree. It’s about learning to put other people’s opinions and advice into perspective and learn how to think and act and believe on your own.
If you feel like you’re halfway through your twenties and you have nothing to show for it, if you feel like you’re failing, it’s because you keep asking for permission. Stop. Let yourself free. Climb out of that horrible, dark space and see how far you can go. Acknowledge that other people’s opinions are out there and you can never avoid them. But also acknowledge that they don’t have to control your life. Forget about what everyone else has to say, and just do something. Maybe you’ll try and you’ll succeed. Or maybe you’ll try and you’ll fail. But trying and failing will always be so much better than doing nothing.