And stop living it on someone else’s
If I asked you whether you live life on your terms, you’d probably say yes.
But do you? Are they YOUR terms? Or are they your family’s, and/or society’s terms?
As an independent soul and a bit of a rebel, I used to think that I lived on my own terms. I was wrong. I did a lot of things that were expected of me, things that weren’t me at all. As a child, I’d tried so hard to fit in that I’d started doing what others wanted me to do. Even if it wasn’t what I’d have done myself.
At first, it wasn’t a big deal. Giving in a little here, a little there. But after years of this behaviour going unchecked, my own terms for living had been eroded away. Not that I was aware they had. The terms on which I was living had become so familiar, they felt like mine.
The fit became less comfortable as the years went by. I still wasn’t aware that this was behind the unsettled feeling I had. But I couldn’t escape the fact that I did feel unsettled. Something didn’t feel right inside. The best way to describe what I felt is that there was a void inside. A certain emptiness.
It was decades later that I finally understood why I felt that void. I was missing from my own life. Through not living life on my terms, I had lost myself, bit by bit, along the way.
30 years spent rediscovering myself taught me much. About me. About others. About what it means to be fully alive. Today, I live life on my terms. How do I know? Because I dance to the beat of a very different drum. Different from the beat I used to dance to. And different from the beat I see everyone around me dancing to. I’m told I’m an outlier with such frequency that I know people experience me as different. People I know very well, and people I’ve just met.
I love being an outlier, being different. You know why? Because I AM different. I’m unique, the only me in town. You’re unique, too.
How to rediscover yourself
Rediscovering yourself requires you to answer two simple questions. “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?”. The questions may be simple. But answering them isn’t.
Who are you? Who is beneath all those layers of conditioning?
And if you think you have no layers of conditioning, think again. We ALL emerge from our families and school with conditioning. Remember those rules you had to follow? Do you still follow them, even though you don’t have to? That’s conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, not all conditioning is bad for you. It’s only bad for you if it goes against your own conditioning.
Your own conditioning is your belief system.
Your belief system is one part of what you have to figure out to rediscover yourself. The other part is to understand what lights you up. What lights you up is a combination of what you love doing and what you’re naturally good at.
One way to get at all this information is to answer these three questions.
- What’s important to you?
- What do you love doing?
- What are you truly good at?
What’s important to you? is all about the principles upon which you wish to build your life. Which personal qualities do you want to be known for? You know, things like honesty, kindness, resilience, openness, respect. If you find this hard to answer, think about the qualities you see in people you admire. Which types of behaviour are you not prepared to engage in? Are you prepared to use fear to get what you want? Are you prepared to be dishonest? Are you prepared to harm others through what you’re doing/buying? Which causes or issues are closest to your heart? Do you care about the environment? Human rights? Child labour? Income inequality?
To answer What do you love doing? properly, you’re going to need to go back in time to when you were a young child. From your earliest memories till when you were about eight years old. It’s best to stop at eight, because that’s when you started being moulded by others. With the best will in the world, your parents and those close to you started to direct you. To be a certain way. To go down a certain path. The trouble with this is that you are not them. Either as an individual. Or as part of your generation. So, the life for which you were groomed may not fit the real you. Mine didn’t at all. To answer this question, close your eyes and think about the young child version of you. What did you spend your time doing, when it was up to you? Think about this in detail. Note how you liked to play — alone or with others. Whether you were more introverted or extraverted. Whether you tended to lead, or follow. That kind of detail.
What are you truly good at? If you’re like me, you may not have a great sense of this any more. You may be accomplished at a lot of things, which is great. Some, you’ve learned to do well, and some, you’re naturally good at. All these things will serve you well, but you’ll get more joy from what comes naturally. Get a little outside help with this one, from people who know you well. Make sure you choose people who are impartial. This may rule out your immediate family as there can often be a lot of baggage in those relationships! Sift through their responses and note down those that resonate most with you.
Putting yourself back in your life
You now have the raw material you need to get clear on who you are, and why you’re here. The next step is to start to make sense of it.
From your answers, craft a short paragraph that captures your essence. It should talk about your values, your beliefs, and your skills. It’s your personal statement. Think about it as an elegant paragraph containing your personal keywords. Anyone reading it should be clear about who you are as a person.
Next comes what you plan to do with your life. I call this your Life Vision. Take your essence — the real you. Add what you love doing, and then the unique contribution you want to make in the world. This combination forms your Life Vision.
Living on your terms
You know who you are. You know why you’re here. Now it’s time to start living it. To start living on your terms.
Dreaming about your personal statement and Life Vision won’t make them come to life. It takes planning and action to move you from where you are to where you want to be. First, you need to break your journey down into steps. Make sure the steps are large enough to be interesting, and small enough to be achievable. Then, you need to plan how you’re going to take action. Plan no more than 90 days out, and then get more granular. Into months, weeks, and days. Don’t get into the daily detail too far ahead, or it won’t be relevant. I lay out next week’s daily plan at the end of the previous week.
Every action in your plans should take you one step closer to your Life Vision. It’s that simple. This level of focus is what it takes to live on your own terms. You may think it’s a lot of effort, that your current life is easier on you. You’re right about the first part, but wrong about the second.
Living on your terms feels better than any other way of living, and is worth every scrap of effort it takes to get there. You feel more alive than ever before. You feel more clarity than ever before. You feel more fulfilled than ever before. You feel happier than ever before.
And you’re worth every scrap of effort it takes to get there.