I am a self-professed “people pleaser.” I always have been. It’s like a badge that’s handed out in the “Type A: Perfectionist” packet one receives as a member of this infamous tribe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it’s the “wrong” club to belong to, it’s simply tricky business. Having perfectionist tendencies can prove wildly useful, beneficial and powerful, if one learns how to harness its capacity. It can also become quite a cross to bear, on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is inevitably up to the individual. Shall you carry on as a victim to your tendencies, to your personal traits, a slave to what you might consider a “weakness” or character flaw? Or will you harness your potential? I think you should choose the second one. At least that’s what I’m doing.
It’s a conscious choice. Conscious is not a synonym for “easy.” I’ve let my perfectionist tendencies cause me angst and stress unconsciously for 24 years. Yes, as in up until yesterday. Today, even. I have moments of profound clarity when I harness these tendencies efficiently, but there are also times when I mindlessly let anxiety chisel away at my sense of calm, my intuitive balance. The most profoundly beneficial attitudes, behaviors and habits in life are rarely acquired easily, though; if this is a challenge, that’s pretty good proof that you’re on the right track. Living with mindfulness and awareness is key, it’s a habit we have the power to develop, if it does not already come naturally. I’ve read that doing something for 66 days straight gives a person the strength to carry on in such a manner for a year, decade, lifetime.
Just 66 days. That’s two months and roughly one week. So if it’s a healthier lifestyle you wish to adopt, a vegetarian diet, a daily yoga practice…or perhaps a commitment to learn an instrument, a language, or sit down and write everyday…give it 66 days. Make a short-term resolution to establish a practice and, whatever it may be, commit fully to it for those two months. It might be learning to start every morning with soothing, detoxifying lemon water (after four months I now couldn’t imagine not starting my morning this way) or it might be training yourself to not depend so much on the influence of others to feel okay, or to make decisions. The span is wide, the choice is yours.
66 days, in theory. That’s it.
So think, what is it you wish to change in your life? Do you wish to harness your “perfectionist tendencies” so as to manifest what it is you truly desire for your life? That’s what I’m working on and, as the author of this essay, let’s just use me as an example. Feel free to insert your own personal goal, though, as the purpose of your reading this is to make it about you.
I am actively working on “letting go.” In the Yoga Sutras, Vairagya is taught as the practice of non-attachment. It is the practice of “letting go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.” This practice permeates every aspect of my life. I have always cared very much what my loved ones think, and to an extent, what “people” think. It’s something I believe a lot of us pretend we don’t care about, but deep down we do. It’s not our faults and it’s [usually] not caused by vanity, but rather by society. We are hammered by the social media with messages that people are always watching, always judging. We must wear certain things, behave a certain way, look a certain way, drive a certain car, have a certain career, etc. in order to be…to be what, exactly? Envied? That’s sort of the message, really, but no one seems to hear it that way. The unconscious programming objective is to make us think we need these things to be happy.
Therein lies the problem. The words “need,” “things,” and “happy,” frankly have no business sharing a sentence.
That being said, in my early twenties I have grown to care far less what “people” think, and I suspect as my life goes on I will care less and less. I relish the thought of this. I have begun to care more about what I think, and not what I think about things, but what I think about happiness. What I think about life, society, education, passion, dreams, the true purpose of life, and love.
I have yet to grow out of my desperate need to please the ones I look up to, though, and this still causes me frustration. I’ve written before about how close I am to my mom and how deeply her opinion matters to me. I feel similarly with my dad. I care very much what my closest friends, a particular few especially, think about my decisions, actions and beliefs. I am sensitive. I feel the need to defend, rather than just hear a loved one’s opinion and process it, and then file it safely in the “important documents” section of my mind. Instead of filing it away, I let it flail around in front of my mind’s eye, confusing and taunting my own intuition.
The truth of the matter is, I know the life I want to live. Sure, it will evolve, I will grow and change as anyone does. But I will grow and change on my own terms. Naturally, valued opinions will affect my decisions, but they oughtn’t disrupt my own sacred intuition.
My mom always says to me, when I get frustrated by our differing opinions, “It’s just my opinion, you can let it go in one ear and out the other.”
Even she doesn’t expect me to toss aside my own ways each time we disagree, or she thinks there is a “better way,” so why is it that I can’t hear an opinion and kindly disagree and move on? Why do I feel so compelled to argue my case and defend my actions (sometimes for days on end)? Because I have some odd sensation that the control is not really mine. That someone might sweep in and say, “You know this beautiful life that you love so much? You know all of the things that matter to you that you dedicate yourself to? Well, you’re not doing it right. You’re wasting your time with these things and you need to do it all differently.”
Sounds silly, but I’ll bet I’m not the only one who has an anxious, imbalanced sense of control.
Perhaps it stems from growing up an only child, perfectionist, immensely sensitive, who grew easily worried and cared deeply about making my parents happy. That, in turn, likely had a lot to do with my eating disorder as a teenager. It, in turn yet again, likely has a lot to do with why I’m so ritualistic and precise about my life as an adult.
The purpose of “retracing my steps” like this not to live in the past, nor harp on hardships. Let bygones be bygones. These steps are inherently a part of my path, however, and without having walked each of those steps I’d not have ended up where I am today: full of purpose, full of light, full of love. We are constantly learning how to navigate our ship, and the tide is constantly changing. Will I ever stop caring deeply about the opinions of those I respect? I likely won’t. Will I grow to hold my own opinions, judgements and beliefs in as high esteem as theirs? Yes, I surely will. Sooner rather than later, thanks to this “retracing” practice.
So what steps of your own can you retrace to gain more clarity as to the path you’re walking today? Are there any “missteps” or parts of your past that you feel confused, embarrassed, or overwhelmed by? Perhaps that’s your first clue that it’s time to acknowledge the behaviors or experiences themselves, and what circumstances preceded them and likely brought them to fruition. It could be any number of things that come to your mind. Marriage, friendship, divorce, betrayal, physical ailment, emotional struggle, even a seemingly insignificant occurrence that resulted in monumental reverberations.
Have confidence in the life you are leading, the decisions you make, the passions you cherish, the dreams you’re chasing, the path you’re walking. If you can’t have confidence in those areas, actively seek clarity where needed so you may do so, with open eyes, open mind, open heart. We find clarity by removing the veil and peering deeply into ourselves, into our pasts, into our own minds and hearts; questioning doubts and investigating fears, realizing that we have the power to regulate our own mind; we have the power to morph what it is that we fear and doubt; we have the capacity to manifest the life that we crave, tangibly and intangibly.
That’s why people aren’t always going to see things your way, and that’s why it’s okay. Because the definition of “okay” is up to you. The way you see, interpret and react to “things” (aka LIFE) is up to you. It’s really an incredibly liberating thought, once you get past the initial queasiness associated with detaching from the notion that we must care what others think. Live your truth. Extend love and light in every direction, let kindness and compassion infuse your ever breath. Let us believe in our own purpose without preaching it to others. Let us agree, disagree, and agree to disagree out there in that big, wide world of boundless, foreign beauty. Let us never stop learning, never stop evolving, and never stop believing that we regulate the energy that is our mind.