Living your life for someone else is exhausting, and when you spent your entire existence doing it, it can also feel like you’re being unfaithful or even an imposter when you make efforts to do something for yourself. So how the hell do can you be yourself without sacrificing the happiness of others? Here’s the magic trick:
I spent thirty four—almost thirty five—years doing everything I could to appease my immigrant parents. I wanted them to feel validated and satisfied by their choice to move here to give me a better life. I got straight As, I learned my native languages so I could communicate fluently with my elders, I was always well-behaved, and followed every other request they made. I spent so long doing that, that when I finally reached semi-adulthood (i.e.: 18 years of age), I had no fucking idea who I was. All I knew was what my parents taught me. With no clues on how the world worked and desperately wanting a way to break-free from my obligations, I made a stupid choice that will haunt me for 10 years before I can escape it and really figure my shite out.
When you have a plethora of expectations placed upon you, especially responsibilities and baggage that you never asked for (e.g.: via choices made, etc.), it can feel like being yourself is impossible. But it doesn’t have to be.
I understand that everyone has different circumstances. Some people may end up on the streets for being unapologetically themselves, or much, much worse, and I would never ever ask anyone to place themselves into the path of danger or harm, no matter what shape or form. I’m only asking that you take the time to truly contemplate what you want from life, and whether living for someone else is ever authentically going to make you feel validated and joyous. When you’re laying on your deathbed in days, months, years, decades from now, do you want to look back and say, “My fucking life sucked. I didn’t do anything I want to. I’m dying and I still don’t know who the fuck I am.”?
When I died in February 2020, I saw my dead brother. I knew in that moment that I wanted to go be with him and end my suffering. Was it because I was mourning him? Absolutely. I never stop mourning him. But that’s not why I wanted to give up and join him. It was because I was thirty two and had accomplished nothing in my life for myself. Fast-forward to this year, I was placed in a situation that physically and emotionally tested my perception of who I am to myself and who I am to others, specifically close family members, the ones whom I’ve always loyally tried my damndest to make proud. These are five things I learned in the last two months:
- People are only proud of you when things are going their way.
- Anyone who isn’t you, will always have an opinion about you, whether you’re Jesus Christ or Ted fucking Bundy (I say this seriously for contemplative reasons), good and bad; it’ll change with a snap of their fingers on a daily basis.
- YOU CAN NEVER MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY and trying to do so will lead to an empty existence of total loneliness and resentment.
- YOU ARE A PERSON AND WHAT YOU FEEL IS COMPLETELY FUCKING VALID
- WHO YOU ARE SHOULD BE A REFLECTION OF WHO YOU ARE, NOT WHAT OTHERS WANT YOU TO BE.
- (BONUS!): Embracing yourself is not the end of the world, it’s actually the beginning of a new one.
Having someone else to try and impress and make proud became my life’s biggest security blanket. As long as I had someone else to be accountable to, I didn’t have to be accountable to myself. They got to make the rules, the plans, and existential itineraries. All I had to do was Codsworth (Fallout 4 reference) my way through it. But even he went insane after a while. What happens when you cut that ripcord? Who’s left to impress? Who’s success hinders on your ability to survive?
I have not had a security blanket for the last month. While I have been living on my own completely for the past year and finagling out how to adult for the well-being of my pets and my brain, I still always had a tiny little spiderweb thread that protected me and kept me safe. But then I saw what happens when I made one small choice for myself (such shaving my head into a Khal Drogo look, for example). Even crueller, I saw what didn’t happen when the absolute worst part of this melodrama slapped me in the face. Rather than receiving a hug and being told it would be okay, I was given a list of ways I fucked up and why I deserved some of the bullshite I was being hit with. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true nor that I tried my best. It sure as hell didn’t matter that I had spent every waking minute and inhalation of breath trying to foster a sense of pride and respect from my loved ones for over three decades, including the events of the last couple months. One small mistake and I was the black sheep again, relegated to the outfields of acceptance and “goodness.”
That is no way to live. When you are constantly trying and working to make others happy, the stuff that you end up sacrificing adds up fairly quickly, until one day that mountain traps you in a bubble of regret and resentment, not to mention devastating disappointment and a horrid sense of loss. You will mourn, but you won’t know what you’re mourning for because you never got the chance to connect with the things that you lost: you and who you are.
I still have the utmost respect for my loved ones, specific to this situation. But I finally recognised that nothing I do will ever be enough… for them. But it can be enough for me. I can look back on my mistakes and see them as lessons to use as wisdom while I climb upwards and forwards. I can say, “Yeah, I hate my hair but at least I wasn’t afraid of trying it instead of spending a lifetime wondering.” (For the record, I love my fucking Khal Drogo hair; it’s so fucking validating and confidence-boosting.) I changed my name to something more nonbinary and more culturally closer to who I am, Kā’eo, rather than the feminine name I was given at birth. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect who that person was or what that person meant to the family around them, but it also doesn’t mean I need to carry on pretending to be something that brings me pain and sadness. My pain and sadness is not going to help me succeed, it will help hold me under water until one day everything just goes fucking black. But most importantly, who I am will not hurt my loved ones or their lives in the least. All it does it alter their perception of the world that they know and are comfortable in. That is not my fault. Their closed-mindedness and inability to see me as anything other than what they shaped me into is not my fault.
Ever since I drew boundaries between what is okay for me to do for loved ones and what isn’t (anything that makes me suppress who I am, such as being nonbinary and gay, or makes me question moralities and ethics), how much of their hurtful words I shall tolerate and how much I will allow to go through me like a fear filter (thank you Dune), I have been able to breathe. I can look in the mirror and say, “Whoa, that’s me.” I can talk without hesitation and reservation. Now when I make choices for work or social circumstances, there is no blanket there to catch me. Whatever choices I make henceforth will be my choice, as shall be the consequences. But the power in knowing that something punched you because you asked for it versus it punching you because someone else pulled you in front of them is fucking incredible and quite freeing.
Everyone has to reach this point on their own. Everyone has different lives, circumstances, family and social dynamics, and the whole big uncertain feast. Just know that when your time to fly arrives, you should take it. You must take it. It doesn’t make you less than of a person and it doesn’t mean that you love your loved ones any less, or even respect them any less. It just means that you have decided that you deserve your own respect too, and your respect of you is truly the one that will help you thrive the most in this life.