Fear. But mostly, fear others.
Tragically, that’s what many of us were taught to do by just about every adult in our lives. Fear what others think of you. Fear what they say about you. And especially, fear what they might do to you if you refuse to be who they want you to be.
Because this conditioning begins so young, we end up taking it to heart. We’ve been convinced that if we can just be ‘liked’ (social media, anyone?), then we might be happy. But it never seems to matter how ‘liked’ we are, we can’t seem to like ourselves.
Of course, we’re acutely aware that if we were anyone other than who people want us to be, we’d lose many of the people in our lives, if not all of them. And that hurts. But that’s not the pain that cuts deepest. The pain that cuts deepest is our betrayal of the self. We’ve turned our backs on our reason for being. And we know it. And we know God knows it.
We’ve spent the better part of our lives appeasing and pleasing others. And it has led us to exactly where we are. To be sure, it’s not all bad. There’s much we have to be grateful for and proud of, and that’s putting it mildly. However, trying to live according to the expectations of others has made us feel small and insignificant, as if our contribution is inconsequential. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. However, because we value so highly how other people see us, we can’t see ourselves.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ~Carl Jung
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ~Aristotle
To awaken to our reason for being—to know ourselves—is foundational to designing a meaningful life. It isn’t enough to simply ‘do something.’ Although that may be a good starting point, to overcome the soft bigotry of low expectations (and that gnawing sense that there’s more to life), we must do what we were born to do. And we were all born to do something.
To begin this journey of self-discovery, you must first stop trying to arrange in others’ minds how you want them to see you and begin instead to arrange in your own mind how you want to see yourself. Of course, this will upset and disappoint and even anger some people. But so what? You’re going to upset and disappoint and anger people anyway. Might as well do it doing something you love than something you don’t.
In other words, better to disappoint them than yourself.
When we’re younger, it may seem like placating others is in our best interest. However, at our death beds, we’ll wonder why we ever allowed others to intimidate us so. We’ll wonder if it was worth it. And then we’ll be filled with regret. We’ll wish with all of our hearts that we had just dropped the façade. That we had told the truth. That we had been genuine.
We’ll wish that we had loved ourselves more than we had feared others.
People struggle to love people that don’t love themselves. More importantly, people that don’t love themselves, by definition, don’t take care of themselves—that is, they don’t concern themselves with what’s truly important to them. They’re too busy concerning themselves with what’s important to others for them.
It’s a sad existence.
We should have been taught to love, not fear.
Fortunately, we can overwrite our negative conditioning.
We can unlearn fear.
We can learn to love.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: Because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).