Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. ~ Oscar Wilde
When was the last time you consulted your own inner compass? We all have it. It’s the compass inside our gut that guides our actions and choices when we need it most. But sometimes the needle of the compass points us the wrong way because the magnetism of others interferes with our internal sense of direction. As children, we seem to have an uncanny way of discovering our own unique path. We’re born unafraid to be who we are. But at some point in our development, our social training make us more susceptible to the interference of others. We listen to the well meaning advice of our family, friends, and acquaintances as they tell us how to think and feel, what careers to pursue, who to marry, and where to live. They tell us to become doctors and lawyers instead of artists, thinkers, and dreamers. They tell us to be realistic, practical, and safe so we can pay the bills. And you do what they tell you because you love them. You do what friends and acquaintances tell you because you want to be liked. So you follow the herd. You slowly trade your dreams of doing something that fulfills you with the desire to be respected and accepted. The only problem is that you wake up years down the road with the realization that you are actually on someone else’s path. You’re miserable, resentful, and you want to find your way back to your true self. If you’ve been walking somebody else’s path for years, don’t think it’s too late to find yourself back to your path and fully embrace it. You can choose to embrace your path at any point in your life because it’s always waiting for you. Here are 5 steps you can implement today to get back on track.
1. Figure out what’s unique about you
When you’re focused on conforming to the expectations of others in order to please, you lose sight of your own values and what’s unique about you.
This is the hardest step because the harsh reality is that most of us don’t truly love or fully accept who we are. We spend most of our time and money trying to mold ourselves to conform to the expectations of our culture. We’re exposed to hundreds of ads a day tell us we’re too old, too fat, too skinny, too loud, too quiet, too black, too white, too aggressive, too sensitive. And the list can go on and on. But if you’re going to embrace your own path, you must be willing to fully embrace all of who you are. This includes all your perceived faults and imperfections. Grab a pen and paper and write down as many attributes about yourself as you can – especially the ones for which you were criticized the most. These are the attributes that make you unique.
2. Let go the values and expectations of others
You may be walking the path of another person without even knowing it. You may have unconsciously internalized the desires of parent, someone you admire, or the culture in general. These unconscious expectations can become so deeply buried in the psyche, that they become totally hidden from our view. Once you begin the process of fully embracing yourself, you’ll begin to realize that you may have been on somebody else’s path for years, even decades. This may trigger feelings of intense anger, bitterness, discouragement, even hopelessness. But know that this awakening is truly a reason to celebrate. It means that you now have the opportunity course correct and get back on your own life path. You’re now ready to begin the process of letting go the expectations of others. To do this, you must first become fully aware of the invisible scripts of others that have controlled your past choices. Write down as many of your personal values and expectations as you possibly can. Write the first things that come to mind. Resist the urge to filter or edit. Slowly review each written expectation. As you do this, you’ll immediately be able to identify which expectations came from others and which ones are authentically you. You may try to second guess your gut emotions but your gut won’t lie to you.
Gently cross off the expectations you’ve identified as “other” and let them go. How do you do this? By deciding to no longer be controlled by these expectations, by accepting that you cannot please everyone – even those you love, and by choosing to live by your own values and expectations.
3. Worry less about what others think of you
I know, much easier said than done. The truth is that we are social beings to our core. And being highly social is the one evolutionary trait that caused us to be the most successful species on the planet. But being social has a few drawbacks too. One of them is our tendency to worry incessantly about what others think of us. It makes sense.
For our ancestors, being rejected by the social group meant almost certain death because individuals needed the group to survive. Today, even though the stakes are not so dire, being rejected by our social groups can feel like death. But if you can work through the difficult emotions when you feel rejected for being yourself, you’ll find that you have others who support you, and share in your vision for yourself. As you continue to walk your own path, you’ll learn to stop fixating on the opinions of others. You’ll stop trying to read their minds and project your own fears and thoughts on them. Because whatever thoughts others may have about you, they do not belong to you. Let them go. You already have way enough on your plate.
4. If you must compare, do it right
Stop comparing yourself to others. You’ve probably heard this numerous times before. It’s great advice, except for the fact that we’re hardwired to compare. It’s part of our social DNA and we do it all the time to make sense of our world – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Of course, we exacerbate the unhealthy aspects of comparing by fixating on what others have versus what we lack. And our addiction to social media has only compounded the problem. Nothing will get you off your unique path faster than this habit. So how do you curb your natural instinct to compare? Don’t try to fight it outright because you’ll lose. Instead, when feelings of inadequacy and jealousy start to arise in you as you compare, turn these feelings into admiration and gratitude. Celebrate their successes and express gratitude for the ways their accomplishments can inspire you to embrace your own unique path to your own version of success. Don’t let your comparing allow others to define success for you. Let it propel you to finally define and pursue your very own success.
5. Be authentic
There are so many people in the world who settle for a life of conforming. It’s so incredibly seductive because it feels safer to go with the herd. When you blend in, you don’t to risk drawing unwanted attention and ridicule from others. You may even accomplish some great things by following the path others set for you. If you’re conforming in order to live out the dreams of another person instead of your own, you ultimately be unhappy and unfulfilled – regardless of your accomplishments. Being your authentic self will put you on the fast track to greater happiness and well-being. How do you become more authentic? Take the lists you created from the first two points and make them public by living out your unique attributes, values, and expectations. It’s time to stop hiding who you really are from public view. Embrace your path to happiness So what’s stopping you from walking your own unique path? Fear? What do you fear more, the opinions of others or the prospect of spending your whole life walking somebody else’s path? Will having courage to walk your own path be uncomfortable, unpredictable, even unwelcome? Sure, but you’ll also be unstoppable. Why? Because when you’re walking the path you’re meant to walk, you’ll summon the strength to overcome any obstacle to your well-being. You’ll give others the courage to do the same for themselves. And you bring joy and happiness to a world that needs you just the way you are. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What one thing can you do to make sure you’re walking your own path.