What would happen if you knew what was important to you?
What would it be like to live your life from a place of knowing what mattered?
And I don’t mean what matters to your parents. Or to your friends. Or to people on the internet. Or to “society”. Or even what you think should matter to you.
I mean what matters. To you.
I never used to live by what mattered to me because I used to live by the expectations of others.
Whenever my friends asked me what I wanted to do, I’d say “I don’t mind”. That’s not a bad thing to say… but it’s bad to say it if you feel like you have to say it otherwise people won’t like you. Which is how I felt.
I said “I don’t mind” because then they’d make the choice and then they’d be happy. And then I would’ve done my job. As long as they were happy, I was happy. That’s how it worked.
But it didn’t always feel right. Just doing whatever they wanted me to do. Because what if what they wanted to do was get into trouble? Or do something illegal? Or shout something racist to our neighbour?
Yes. I shouted something racist at my neighbour because I was too afraid of not being liked. How ironic.
I knew it wasn’t right because I felt it in my gut. You know the feeling I’m talking about. The foreboding one.
But I didn’t seem to be able to stop myself. Not that I knew it then, but being liked by other people was more important than liking myself.
That’s sad. It’s also foolish, given that I have zero control over other people.
If someone would’ve asked me what was important to me, back then, I would’ve had no idea.
I probably would’ve said the stock answer: friends, family…
Which is good. They were and are important to me. But what else? Who else was I?
I think I would’ve just said, “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
Let me ask you this: when it comes to you – what you want, where you want to be, who you are – how often do you really, genuinely, truly not know? Are you honestly going to tell me that you have absolutely no fucking idea whatsoever – about yourself? The person you’ve spent every single millisecond of your entire life with?
If you said that to me now – “I don’t know” – I wouldn’t believe you.
Because I think you do know.
I just think you’re too afraid to admit it.
Like I was.
It was only when I realised that living by the expectations of other people was making me unhappy that I realised something needed to change. It’s like that Tony Robbins quote:
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
I spoke to a mentor of mine and I told him that I was finally done living by the expectations of other people.
He asked me a question:
“If you wrote down a list of all the important people in your life, where would you write your own name?”
I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. Because I felt like I never, ever would’ve even considered writing my own name.
Would you write your own name? Would you even think to write it? Now that you are thinking about it, where in your list would your name be?
He then told me to write down what was important to me.
Erm, ok, I thought. I doubted him a little. But I also trusted him so I started to write.
It was like a release. A relief. I was writing down everything I knew to be true but had never dared to admit before.
Once I’d done that, he told me to put the list in order. The most important thing in the world, to me, down to the things that weren’t as important, but still somewhat important.
This took a while. Maybe an hour. I tinkered with it a few times. I talked some things out with him. It was – dare I say it – important for this to be right.
And then he asked me to write down why these things were important to me. He told me to write at least one reason for each. These reasons could be specific or as abstract. As long as they were from my heart.
Once that was done, he took the paper from me and held it up in front of me.
I felt strange. A good strange. I felt exhilarated but calm. I felt energised but peaceful.
I smiled. I looked at him. Right in the eye.
There was only one thing to say:
That’s all there was to say. That’s all that would do it justice.
That list of what was important to me, in the right order, with the reasons why these things were important to me… it was me. It just was.
And then came the other realisations.
That I didn’t have to live by anybody else’s expectations.
That I could live my life exactly the way I wanted to live it.
That I could be me.
It felt like magic. Ugh, I know. “Magic”. But in those moments… I don’t know what else to tell you. Telling you it felt like magic is just me being honest.
I had another realisation too.
All of that stuff I’d just written down? All of those realisations I’d just had?
I’d known them all.
I’d fucking known them all.
The whole thing, I now realised, had felt less like a realisation and more like a confession.
It was like I’d finally… let myself. It was like I’d finally moved out of my own way. It was like I’d finally given myself permission to be unapologetic about who I knew I really was.
It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
I did this with a client a couple of days ago. They were getting fed up of complaining, and of making excuses, and of not being where they wanted to be, and they asked me for help.
He was sceptical, at first. Even though he knew how much it had helped me. We humans are odd, aren’t we? But after explaining – once again – the “magic” of it, he told me he wanted in.
He wrote down what was important to him. Everything that was important to him. Everything that was actually important to him, rather than what he thought should be important to him.
Then I helped him to put it in order. Then he wrote down why these things were important to him, with whatever “why” that came to mind.
And then it went silent. And then he said these words:
“Oh my god. I know why I’m not happy. I’m not living by what’s important to me. Not at all.”
When are you going to bother to finally find out what’s important to you?