“I’m not sure why I agreed to this,” she groans under her breath. She pulls into the driveway of a house she’d rather not be pulling into. She carries the cake she didn’t really want to bake for the person whose friendship has always felt ambivalent. She gathers the bags of plastic forks and paper plates, shoving her dread all the way back down and sliding her mask of cheer into position. She prepares for an hour of polite smiles and contrived conversations when she’d rather be sipping espresso in her PJ’s from the comfort of her living room.
“How do I always get sucked into this?” he says to himself. With his back pressed against the couch, the call timer on his phone multiplying from minutes to hours, listening in silent disinterest to the same family member’s ramblings he’s heard hundreds of times before. It feels like “Groundhog Day.” The same scene loops and repeats, and is always void of meaning. He knows there are more positive and interesting things he could and should be feeding to his mind and spirit — things to buttress his future and align with his values. Why does he betray them?
“I’m not sure how you found yourself here,” you declare into you own reflection. Facing down a black hole of regret in your own eyes, so full of questions for the person that you once were: Why didn’t she write that screenplay? Why didn’t she keep those appointments? Why didn’t she set those boundaries, sign up for those contests, earn those stamps on her passport? Why did she reach for those sneakers when she wanted to wear heels? Why did she say, “Oh, it’s OK,” when it was never OK at all? Why didn’t she follow the fragrance of her heart’s desire, and instead, let her sense of self be smothered by fumes of societal expectations? Why didn’t she confess those “I love you”s? Why did she wait so long to say those goodbyes, her hesitation victimizing her own self-esteem — contaminating it with the toxic spoilage of those long overdue expirations.
It’s funny, isn’t it? In every moment of every day, people in cities, and towns and villages all across the globe are intertwining themselves with the things they hate, while turning a cold shoulder to the things they love most of all. They pacify their discontentment with sips of delusion that embolden them into believing they have plenty of months and years stretching out before them, convincing themselves, “I’ll try for that soon. I’ll do it someday.” But they have no idea how much time they have.
They may raise their glasses high for the Champagne toasts, swipe their cards for the wedding gifts, pay the congratulations, and pardon the passive-aggressive jabs from co-workers — all because they believe it’s the polite and socially acceptable thing to do. But, in the next breath, they denounce their intuition, bite their lips to avoid confrontation, clench their jaw as to avoid the stigma of being too angry, too broken, too inappropriate, too nonconforming, too opinionated, too unhappy, too weird.
They let the months shuffle by never having booked that trip, written that song, learned that language, visited that loved one, returned that call, lassoed that opportunity of a lifetime, let that person know how they really, really, really feel. No, I don’t mean on-the-surface how they feel, but the way they feel when they’re alone in the shower, mumbling to themselves and juggling theoretical scenarios, seeking vengeance with the soap and getting candid with the tile. Or when they’re tossing and turning into the night, belly full of unresolved feelings and unspoken words burning their throat like hot acid. I can’t think of anything more painfully irresponsible than this — the blatant betrayal of oneself.
The Lure of Social Acceptance Is an Assassin to the Self
When we engage with the things we hate day after day, even in the seemingly innocent and trivial moments, those fragments of time string together a life that feels empty and pointless. We then create bitterness, heartache and resentment for ourselves, acting as a cold-blooded assassin to the person we vowed to become.
Eventually, we may feel we have never been truly seen or known at all. The funny thing is? We’re the only ones who have to live in the body that houses all of the bitterness, heartache and resentment we created. And our contaminated bodies of regret are notorious for covering themselves in an armor of envy and judgment — especially when we watch others succeed at the ventures and live out the values we have yet to be brave enough to align ourselves with. But, again, we are the only ones who have to paddle through the swamp of unfulfilled desires and abandoned intentions, gazing onto the landscape of the glittering could-have-been.
The truth is that no one is ever going to knock on your door and handcuff you with courage, or luck, or motivation, or a spirit of action — forcing you to shuffle down the elusive brick road toward your dreams. You can’t wait around for a seminar, or an inspirational quote or the New Year to magically change you. No one — whether flesh and bones or of the supernatural realm — is going to close the curtain on those scary situations, conclude those toxic relationships, sign off from those unhealthy conversations, say no to that abuse, carve out those boundaries, ask for that pay raise, write those poems, quit that shitty job, or lower that number on the scale. No one is capable of living out your days for you. If you’re moving through a life filled with the things you hate and scarce of the things you love, no one gets to chomp on that bitter fruit but you. It’s a poison of your own creation that you alone will have to swallow.
So what, then, is the solution — how does one attract a life they love and repel the kinds of circumstances they hate? Its principle is so simple, few ever put it into action.
If certain conversations feel like treading across a toxic wasteland, stop participating in them. No one is forcing you to entertain the stories that make you shiver with aversion. If time spent with someone causes red caution flags to go up in your mind, stop accepting their invitations. No one is forcing you to be friends with someone you don’t like. If social media’s offerings of voyeurism swarm you with feelings of inadequacy, or lure you into a dead-end zone that is void of self-belief, either reduce its importance in your routine or log off from it entirely. You’re not a hostage to anything, even if the rest of the world seems to be.
This brings me to beautiful part. You have been granted the luxury of free will. This means you get to engage wildly with all of the things that make you come alive — the landscapes that stir you, the books that transcend you, the ideas that ignite you, the adventures that thrill you, and the values that are always calling you home. What do you believe in? Those are the things beckoning for your creativity, and emotional currency, and faith, and sweat, and tears, and time.
One day you’re going to be a pile of bones, and all of those moments spent politely bumping up against the things you hate — all for the sake of what is ‘normal’, ‘expected’ or offering a facade of acceptance and companionship — won’t present you with any badge of glory or trophy for your martyrdom. You won’t get any of your time or money back. But the love? That’s the only worthwhile souvenir you’re going to be able to take with you upon exit. That’s the only legacy worth leaving behind. So make tons and tons and tons of it — through every minute, every hour, every day that you were never guaranteed in the first place. Don’t you think it’s about time?