Photo: Violette

My birthday recently passed. I planned a date with myself to relax with a bottle of wine and lay low. The very thought of it thrilled me. No harm intended, but I didn’t want to be bothered with anyone. That’s a gift I have to give myself whenever I can because I don’t get a lot of time to myself.

But it’s not that simple. Saying I don’t want to celebrate my birthday brings on all kinds of questions and expectations. What’s wrong? Why don’t you want to go out? We should do this or go here. You can’t just sit at home by yourself. Oh but I can and I will enjoy every moment of it. I’m celebrating my way this year, by myself, in my own world. It’s taken me a long time to stop basing what I do on what people expect of me.

When I didn’t know any better, I thought I was supposed to like what everyone else liked and do what everyone else was doing. This mindset does something stifling to the soul. It’ll have you thinking that something is wrong with you for not being turned on when everyone else is. It’ll have you convinced that you’re not creative, driven or special. And it can get you trapped in a character and a life that doesn’t feel real for you. Just going through the motions. Wondering what’s missing.

How often do you find yourself filling your days with obligations and supposed to’s, the whole time wondering why you feel unfulfilled and uninspired? It’s a quiet feeling at first, but with time it gets louder and louder to the point of distraction. It turns into resentment when you ignore it, but you can stop it by letting yourself be who you are and love what you love, regardless of what anyone thinks. Ultimately, what gives you the courage to deviate is self-love.

I don’t know about you, but no one taught me about self-love growing up. I was taught to love God and my parents, but not myself. I was taught to love other humans and nature, be compassionate and kind, but not toward myself. In fact, I was taught both directly and indirectly that I was inherently bad and couldn’t be trusted. It was cocky to think too much of myself. Selfish to be particular, and bother people with my needs and boundaries. Definitely foolish to show too much of who I really am. And so it goes, that I had to grow up, unlearn and reverse all of this.

I remember coming across a quote by Ntozake Shange where she said, “I found god in myself and I loved her. I loved her fiercely.” And I’d never heard such a bold, self-affirming statement in my life. Her words moved me, touched me to my core. They made sense of something that was confused in me for a long time. When an idea connects for you, especially something you’ve sensed but haven’t been able to articulate, you can’t help but be expanded by it. It lands right where it needs to inside of you, takes root and grows. We need space to allow this. When your life is overflowing with things that don’t matter, it makes it difficult to nurture the things that do.

The way I am now, if I’m not inspired by it, I don’t make space for it, because my time and energy are precious. It starts with small things like choosing to spend your lunch hour writing your book instead of hanging out with your co-workers. Then maybe you’re removing yourself from more obligations that drain you or you’re ending a relationship that hurts you. Then you find yourself making significant life decisions that no one understands but mean the world to you.

Self-love is knowing how you want to feel, what inspires you, and pursuing the things that make you feel that way. It’s knowing how to smile and say no thank you. Or how to speak up and say, more please. So you can have the space and freedom to explore your own passion and curiosity. Not only is it self-love, it’s self-responsibility. We can’t let ourselves be pulled and pushed all over and then blame the world and say we didn’t live the life we wanted.

It’s crazy the pressure we feel to prove ourselves. The messages drown out our intuition. ‘You’re running out of time. You have to be better than the next person. You must have all the answers. You must do everything and be everything to everyone.’

If you’re like me, that sounds like pure hell. Just talking about it brings to mind that late night anxiety that comes when you’ve lost touch with what makes you feel alive and hopeful and you want to change direction but you don’t know how. Your thoughts are loud with dread thinking about all the things you don’t care about that you feel like you have to do and say and be. It’s awful.

But if that sounds like you, know that at any time you can choose to do things differently. You don’t have to measure up or do the same dance that everyone else is doing. You don’t have to wear fifty hats or juggle a dozen balls. Choose your own flow, always.

What pressures and obligations can you let go of to create the life you really want? Share with me below and check in next week to find out what has to be done, again and again and again, to live the life you want.

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