I recently bought a card that said: “This year, quit doing shit you hate.” And on the inside, it simply said “Happy Birthday.” I thought it was a brilliant card, and isn’t it the best gift to give yourself? Quit doing shit you hate. Quit doing things you don’t want to do. Quit doing what you think is expected of you because you think the world would stop spinning if you didn’t. I wish I could send this card to myself every year, just as a gentle reminder.
For most of my life I’ve been the girl who did what she thought was right; what she thought other people wanted her to do. I’ve made choices based on how I thought people would see me and what they would think of me. Over the years I allowed the fear of other people’s negative opinion to shape the very core of who I am. I’ve made tons of decisions based on the belief that it was my duty to make everyone else happy, and that if I didn’t, they’d think I was selfish or self-serving. If I didn’t, I thought I was selfish and self-serving.
As I get older, I see things differently. I cry at Subaru commercials and get choked up over episodes of West Wing that I’ve seen dozens of times. I get angry when I see those yellow pesticide signs that tell me more bees have been killed for our comfort (don’t get me started) and I see my family as the people they are: imperfect but doing the best they know how (just, coincidentally, as I am doing). I see myself tired of fearing what other people think, and I see my need to please as what it really has been all along – the need to avoid conflict. If you know me well, you know I hate conflict. I will do anything to sidestep it. Anything. That includes doing shit I hate.
The problem is, you can’t always do what you think will keep the peace and be a good friend, lover, daughter, mother, father, or son simultaneously. It almost never goes according to plan. Because of it I’ve lost good friends, ones who just needed to hear my truth, who needed me to be honest when it was painful, who needed me to show up when I wouldn’t. Sometimes, that need to keep everyone peaceable, well, it pissed people off. At other times, it simply pushed them away.
When I was younger, I had good friend and we grew closer still during our years just out of high school. She was a woman I admired: self-assured and confident. We were close until I did something that I should have been open with her about. Instead, I kept quiet. I was afraid of what she would say and how my actions would make her feel. I didn’t want to hurt her, but it was possible that my choice would upset her. So, instead of speaking up, of telling her that I’d chosen a path that made me happy, I avoided her and the uncomfortable conversation I knew would come. Months passed, and I still didn’t speak up. Then, of course, she found out. Guess what? She was upset. But really, she was more hurt by the fact that I felt I couldn’t tell her than by what I had done. My silence and my need to keep the peace had shown her that I didn’t trust our relationship to weather the upheaval. My avoidance didn’t make things better, it made them worse. It took us years to talk openly about it, and when we did, the hurt was still there. On both sides. Maybe one day we’ll be as close as we were those years ago, and maybe we won’t, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, is that if I’d had the guts to be open and tell her how I felt back then, even if it meant hurting her temporarily, we’d still be close friends today.
It’s hard speaking up. It’s hard making your thoughts known. Maybe one of the scariest things you can do is to say what you want out loud. But even scarier is going through life so afraid of your own voice that you move through your days with your ringer on silent; afraid to disrupt or create waves. You “yes” everyone to death and you forget that you have your own desires – you forget and forget until they’re blurred and gone completely; your voice and self-value gone with them. Worse, the people around you get hurt too, because you’re not being true and honest.
So, quit doing shit you hate. It sounds simple, but really, it’s quite profound. Say “no” occasionally, draw lines, re-establish boundaries and step out of your own shadow. You may upset some people. That’s okay, the ones who matter will get over it. I read somewhere that the only people who are mad when you set boundaries are the ones who benefited from you having none. It is not your job to make the people around you happy. It is your job to show up, to speak honestly, and most importantly, it’s your job to have the uncomfortable conversation, to step into conflict with compassion and courage. Do this and the people you love will be happy, because instead of going through the motions just to please them, you’re committing to making your relationship healthy. And, in the end, doesn’t that make everyone happy?