In my 40s (I’m 42, thanks for asking) I woke up to a story I was telling myself that was causing me a lot of drama.The mindset goes something like this “We need to agree about me.” Or, loosely translated, “You need to believe about me what I believe about me, or I’m not going to be able to believe about me what I want to believe about me.”
Here are a few everyday examples.
In each of these examples, I would go on the offensive, defending my point of view and forcing the issues until the (usually very surprised) other agrees, “Ok, yes, I agree that you are hungry, a coach, and strong.”
Why did it matter whether the other person agreed with me? Why did I need a consensus opinion on who I was and how I felt, when the only person it ever actually affected was me?
Hang with me, we’re going back in time
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear it, but I can rub some people the wrong way. I insist on things when others would prefer that I let it go. I feel sad things and happy things and unjust things with an intensity that takes some people aback. Plus, I was poor and smart when the world would have much preferred that I be resourced and stupid. I was “too much” and “not enough” and SENSITIVE.
In the hopes that I could learn to “pass” as acceptable, I created unflinching standards for myself and then ruthlessly policed myself to ensure that those standards were upheld. I lived that way all through college and into my first master’s program (which I entered immediately after college).
At that time, I realized that I didn’t AT ALL want to be in graduate school… and was horrified to find myself halfway down a path that was super “reasonable” and totally wrong for me. I got up the courage and walked away, freeing myself a little bit.
I spent my 20s realizing that it was my hyper-rigid expectations and not the small transgressions that were the real problem. And then I spent the majority of my 30s figuring out who I could grow into if I just let myself believe.
I realized along the way that I, AND YOU, can be whatever we want if we get started, accept failure, and pay attention to our mindsets.
I’ve been singing that song for a decade now and I believe it more every day.
And yet, I entered my 40s carrying this vestige of that earlier way of being; even though I believed in me and all that I was capable of, I still needed for us to agree about my potential, my nature, and my intentions.
And when we didn’t agree, I felt kind of threatened. I worried, in an existential way that I wasn’t “doing it right.”
Then, one day, my husband and I had a little disagreement. I was saying, in my dramatic way, that “I never wanted to do research again*.” He looked surprised and reminded me that I LOVED research. I loved research so much that I had gone through 7 years of extra school to be anointed as one who could do research of her own.
I felt myself rise up, ready to argue with him about how reasonable and right I was to feel this way, to want this break, to intend this turnaround… and then, I felt utterly fed up.
Now, just to be clear, I was not fed up with him. He’s worth his weight in gold exactly because he can see me clearly when I’m in the middle of being carried away by my thoughts.
No, I was utterly and completely fed up with myself.
Why did it matter whether he agreed with me about me?
It didn’t. <–That’s literally every emphasis available in this program, that’s how huge this insight felt.
I’m the only person in the world who has to agree with me about:
The weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. I can think and do and be who I want, even if he (the most important person in my world) didn’t understand. Even if he didn’t think it was a good idea. Even if it was totally contrary to who I’ve been up until now.
EVEN IF IT MAKES NO SENSE.
I was free.
I offer this story to you as an encouragement, in case you need it. We are living in very tight quarters right now and our disagreements and misunderstandings about each other might very well be center stage.
Some of those need to be examined and talked through, for sure.
But for many of them, I’m wondering if you could just decide that no one has to agree with you about you.
It doesn’t matter what they think! It doesn’t matter if they NEVER agree with you.
What becomes possible when you stop waiting for others to agree?
*PS- I don’t know if I’ll ever do research again. I am certainly glad for the break from it that I get in my current life. But it doesn’t matter whether I was right about that, any more than it matters that he and I agree. What matters was that I gave myself the freedom to believe what I wanted to believe for as long as I wanted to believe it without his (or anyone’s) agreement or permission.
Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.