Somedays I don’t know who I even am.
For most of my life, I’ve lived based off the expectations of everyone around me.
I’ve made my life decisions based on what other people thought. I listened to every voice around me but my own.
I grew up surrounded by opinionated people. People who know better than I do. People who know me better than I do (or claim to, I should say).
I was told what I liked and what I should do with my life. (my grandma growing up wanted me to be an engineer… hahahahahaha)
I was told what I believed and why.
I was told who and what to like and dislike. What hobbies to have or not have. What to wear and not wear.
All of the external voices in my life overpowered any internal voice I had.
I’ve always listened to everyone else’s opinion instead of mine. I’ve let others make decisions for me instead of me deciding for myself. From the simple to the life-changing, I don’t typically let myself make a decision on my own– I have to ask everyone around me, and usually go with what they say (even if it’s not what I want/think).
I’ve always longed to please everyone around me, hoping it’d make me loved and wanted. So I did what made others happy, or proud, or safe, not taking into account my feelings or wants or needs.
cared care more about pleasing everyone except myself.
I worry about how people will react if I do or say something that doesn’t align with what they agree with or what they want me to say/do– so I tend to just not say anything and shove my own desires and feelings under the rug. Because I want to be loved, accepted, seen– and I’m afraid if I’m not what everyone else wants me to be, I’ll be unloved or forgotten or rejected. So I seek everyone else’s approval over what I really want in the hopes that they will see me– but they truly don’t see me then. They see what they want me to be instead of the real me.
I’ve relied my whole life on other peoples’ expectations, to the point that I’ve let everyone but me control who I am and what I want… to the point that I don’t even know who I am and what I want for myself.
I’m afraid if I disappoint people, or don’t listen to others’ advice or opinions, that they won’t love me or will stop caring about me.
So I please. I let others’ opinions reign supreme over mine. I let others tell me who to be, what to do, what to think, in the hopes that they’ll love me if I do.
I’ve spent my whole life letting others take claim and control of me.
And it’s taken me until now to realize this about myself.
My sophomore year of high school, my English teacher challenged me (and the whole class) to think for myself. We were having an inner-outer circle discussion on The Jungle (ohhh that book), and a lot of people didn’t know how to justify what they believed– me included.
She said something to the effect of, “if your reason for believing something is because your parents believe it or said so, then you don’t believe it. That’s THEIR opinion, not yours.”
In one fatal swoop, she taught me that in order for an opinion to be mine, it had to actually be mine. Not my mom’s or dad’s or grandmother’s. Mine. That’s when I started researching the “issues” for myself and began embracing my own political beliefs– despite them differing from my family. (I think my dad’s learned to just agree to disagree with me at this point. 😉 ). (Thanks for that lesson, Scott– you were my best English teacher for a reason).
I learned how to think for myself when it came to politics. So why haven’t I learned to trust my own voice for every other aspect of my life?
Last weekend I finished Shauna Niequist’s newest collection of essays, Present Over Perfect. I don’t know if there’s another book I’ve read that’s taught me more about myself than this one. It’s caused me to stop and re-evaluate a lot of things, and has actually made me want to act on the things Shauna said and the questions she asked. Usually with books I learn something and try to apply it to my life, but this book made me want to actually transform and change things in my life.
One of the big themes of the book is letting go of people pleasing, of not listening to the voices “out there” that aren’t her own, of not letting others expectations define her. She writes a lot about how she spent so much time listening to other people and letting others make decisions for her when she really wanted to do or think the opposite. Her thoughts on this made me take a step back and see how much I struggle with the same things.
“Along the way I’ve realized that most of the hard work during my last couple seasons has been claiming authority over my own life. This is not a group decision. We’re not voting for ‘most this’ or ‘most that’ in our yearbooks. This is actually my life, and it doesn’t matter a bit if it would be lovely for someone else to live. What does matter: does it feel congruent with how God made me and called me?
And I’m finding that one of the greatest delights in life is walking away from what someone told you you should be in favor of walking toward what you truly love, in your own heart, in your own secret soul.”
This is my life. Not anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or okay for someone else… because it’s not their life to live. It’s mine. And it’s not made for anyone else to live but me. It’s really mind-blowing how simple a thought that is.
“What ways of living have you simply acquiesced to, because someone told you to? Because it seemed smart or practical or easy? Are those the best words to describe how you want to live?”
I’ve pretty much given in to what everyone around me has told me to do my whole life for those very reasons: smart, practical, easy. And I’d say that those and other similar words would be the words I’d want to describe me: capable. in control. good at decision-making. practical. strong. happy-go-lucky. peacekeeper. sacrificial. That’s me, or what I think I want to be. But I don’t think those words are the heart of what I am.
“In a thousand ways, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. When you allow other people to determine your best choices; when you allow yourself to be carried along by what other people think your life should be, could be, must be; when you hand them the pen and tell them to write your story, they don’t get the pen back. Not easily anyway.
I was an author who didn’t know how to author her own life. I thought that outside forces would guide me benevolently, rightly. They did not. And it was not their job. It was mine. I abdicated authority for my own choices. And what it led to was a broken body and depleted soul.
And now some years later, I know that I am responsible for stewarding my own life, my desires and limitations, my capacities and longings.”
I am responsible for my own life. My desires and longings. My capacities and limitations. They are all mine! WHAT A CONCEPT.
I am in control. I have ownership of my own life. I can make choices and decisions as opposed to falling under what people think I should do or say or be.
I write my story. No one else should be allowed to hold the pen but me. Even if letting outside forces guide me is really tempting, it ceases to be my life and my story when I relinquish that kind of control.
“These days I want to love deeply and well, and that’s really different from pleasing. Love is often quieter, and it’s never connected to that anxious proving and tap-dancing that so many of us have learned to keep people happy.
After a lifetime of believing that the voices that mattered were Out There, approving or disapproving of me, I’m learning to trust the voice within, the voice of God’s Spirit, the whisper of my own soul.”
Now it’s time for me to learn how to listen to my voice and my wants, as opposed to letting others’ voices or opinions rule my decisions (or let me feel guilty about my decisions after the fact). Pleasing people isn’t something that I need to give my life over, y’all. The voices Out There have nothing on the Spirit inside me, the voice God gave me to learn from.
This book for me was an invitation to actually be who I was made to be.
But now I have to actually figure out who that is, because all of me is made up of pieces of everyone else.
This is so much more than peer pressure, y’all.
It’s letting other people– family, friends, co-workers, whomever- define who you are. It’s giving power and control to people that don’t need it. It’s trusting every external voice and thought over the internal voice God gave you.
It’s believing what everyone else says about me instead of believing myself.
One of the things I’ve been working through in therapy is how much I struggle with this letting people decide what I’m doing and where I’m going and what is happening without giving as much of a care of what I think or want. I never really realized just how much control I’d relinquished over the years– I’ve let my family decide my plans and goals and even where I lived at one point; I’ve let my friends decide that they want to be my friend if they need something; I’ve let my mom decide that I have to stay close to home so she can depend on me, even going as far as not letting me get my license so I don’t have the freedom to go as I please. (At 24 and still license-less, this has to do more with me at this point, but it started out being her decision at 16).
You know, for someone who considers herself a control freak, I have a lot less control over myself than I thought.
I’ve gotten, as Shauna writes, wrapped up in what someone else wanted for me. Or what a lot of someones decided what was best for me. Whatever would earn me love, gain me approval and worthiness. But it didn’t. Instead it left me unknowing who I am, having to re-learn and recover parts of me that I didn’t know were mine to have.
So… what do I do now with this brand-new information? (All of the Friends jokes for life!)
I think it’s time for me to sit down and figure myself out. Without the noise. Without the external voices telling me I’m this or should do that.
It’s time for me to figure out who exactly I am.
It’s time for me to decide what I love and don’t love. For me to do the things I want to do without fear of what everyone else is going to say/do/think about it.
One of my favorite lines from Shauna says it this way:
You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling.
What are my loves? What are my dreams?
What are my quirks and pet peeves and idiosyncrasies God put deep inside of me?
What do I need?
What are my passions? What sets my soul on fire? What makes me come alive?
What do I want? What do I want? (It’s worth saying twice)
In one of Shauna’s essays, she mentions a question someone asked to get to a desire/dream: if someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do?
I really want to sit and think about an answer to that– because that is where my deepest desire would be. The place where my passion and talents and availability collide.
One of my favorite essays was titled “On Snow”; it centered around a verse in Job:
God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ (NIV)
She goes on to talk about how the snow is made to do exactly one thing. Just one thing is the whole mission: fall on the earth.
Snow doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. it just falls.
“God says to the snow, “Fall on the earth.” That’s it. Just do one thing. Just fall. Essentially, he’s saying: just do the thing I’ve created you to do. You’re rain: so rain. You’re snow: so snow.
God’s asking me to be the thing he’s already created me to be. And he’s asking you to be the thing he’s already created you to be.”
Shauna then goes on to ask: “What are the things he’s asking you to do, the things he made you to do, the things you do effortlessly and easily?”
What was I made to do? What do I do effortlessly and easily? I’m not sure just yet.
Shauna asks about our child self, looking at the “loves and skills and passions that God planted inside us” as kids… but if I’m being honest I didn’t have any hobbies or passions or desires as a kid that I can think of… because I was made to think/do what everyone else wanted. It comes full circle, you see? When talking about childhood dreams last week at work, I said I didn’t have a childhood dream. I was half truthing there– I had dreams, but they got squashed by people telling me they were impossible or wouldn’t work out because of x,y,or z. So I just didn’t dream out loud anymore for fear of someone telling me it wasn’t going to work out. And eventually, I stopped dreaming and just lived off of what other people told me I should be.
So I’m still figuring it out, logistically speaking. But I can tell you it won’t be what others want it to be or think it is. Just because others know me doesn’t me they know me. No one can know me like I know me, I’m learning… because no one else is me.
Shauna asks at the end of that particular essay: “What do you need to leave behind in order to recover that essential self God created? What do you need to walk away from in order to reclaim those parts of you that God designed, unique to you and for his purposes?”
I need to leave behind the expectations and wants of everyone else.
I need to leave behind the idea that everyone’s voice and opinions are more important than my own (especially in regards to my own life).
I need to leave behind the idea that my life is made to please people in order to get the love/value/approval that I crave.
I need to leave behind this fake me, built on everyone else’s hopes and dreams and wants for me. I am not that girl, the girl that is made up of what everyone else wants her to be. Nope. I am me. 100% me, the girl that God designed and made me to be– unashamedly, unabashedly, me.
And I need to walk away from the voices and opinions that want me to be someone else.
It’s time for me to listen to my own voice.
It’s time for me to decide who I am and who I want to be.
It’s time for me to choose what I want to do with my one wild and precious life, as my beloved Mary Oliver would say.
It’s my turn to control what I do and say and think, where I go and who I spend my time with. I call the shots of my life here. God gave me a voice and a gift when he gave me this life. It isn’t for anyone to take and claim as their own. It’s all me.
And it’s time to reclaim the parts of my life back that I’ve given to everyone else.
So. Who am I?
I am Jordan. And I am the me I want to be: the loud, punctual, homebody, passionate, nerdy, imperfect, affectionate, laughs-at-everything, Jesus-loving, introverted, plus-sized, sarcastic, slightly inappropriate writer that God made me to be– and no one else’s opinion on it matters.**
**(Imma probably need help actually living/believing this come tomorrow, peeps. Change is hard. Especially when it’s 24 years of change being made. Send help.)