Inspired by ‘Choose Yourself’ James Altucher.
In my conservative Indian upbringing, there is not really such a thing as ‘choosing yourself’. Generations of old school Hindu Punjabi tradition – although softening – are still in full swing in my life experience. As a female in this environment, my experience is that life is to be lived according to other people’s rules.
Feast your eyes on some examples:
1. How you should look: Conservative, covered up and generally plain. And only after marriage should you consider looking remotely attractive.
2. How you should behave: Quiet. Don’t even think about speaking your mind. About anything. Unless you are asking anyone if they would like a drink or something to eat. In which case, I’ll take a tea and a samosa. Hurry yourself into that kitchen.
3. Your religion: Hindu. End of.
4. Your education and work: Math, Science, Medicine, Law. What the f*** is Art?
5. When you marry: If you’re not married by 25, you’re past it and no one will want you.
6. Who you marry: Male. Indian. Hindu. Introduced through family. A good height (no joke, this is considered of paramount importance).
7. When you have kids: As soon as possible after marriage. Prepare for all budding grandparents and older relatives to ask you ‘any news?’ every time they see you.
So let me tell you how I’m doing against this list of rules:
1. How I look: ‘Plain’ is not a word in my vocabulary when it comes to how I look. Plus, God gave me nice legs. They need to be on display every now and then. :-p
2. How I behave: I’m outspoken. About most things. Very often.
3. My religion: Spiritual: yes. Religious: no.
4. My education and work: I did study science through my own choice. Now I’m finding my entrepreneurial spirit and it involves art.
5. When I get married: I’m not married and I’m nearly 32. That’s 7 years past my sell by date and there’s no husband in sight.
6. Who I marry: God knows, but their religion, skin colour, race, background, height and method of introduction will not come into it.
7. When I have kids: According to most people, by the time I get round to this my body clock will probably have run out of battery. Anyway, I like the sound of adoption.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all these rules. For many people they work. They make them happy and they live a fulfilling life. Good for them! But I knew very early on that all of this was just not for me.
Despite continuing pressure to conform, a pressure that is sometimes subliminal, a pressure that manifests as fear and guilt in my own stomach for not complying with the rules: I have, and will continue, to choose myself.
I might make it sounds simple, but I don’t think choosing yourself is easy. It takes serious guts. It takes commitment. It takes faith. It takes heart and soul. It takes intellect. It takes daily work. It takes self-awareness. It takes resilience. It takes courage (same as guts?!).
But here’s how I see it: when you deviate your life from your soul’s truth, you split yourself in two (or more!) pieces. And the longer you live that lie, the painful split just gets greater and greater. It stretches you out, pulls you apart, like an elastic band being stretched. One end of the band is your truth, the other end is what you’re living.
Stretch, streeetch, streeeeettcchh. Until one day – SNAP! I think that’s what happens with people who hit rock bottom. Their lives have deviated so far from their innate strength and truth, that the split within them has become vast. The elastic band is so far stretched, it can’t stretch any further and finally – SNAP!
And perhaps now after losing themselves, they begin to choose themselves.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with losing yourself – whether a lot or a little. There is no light without dark. You don’t know you’re on track, until you know how off track feels. Maybe it’s a mandatory unwritten rule of how life goes for most people: you can’t choose yourself until you lose yourself in some way or another.
Some people lose themselves and remain too scared to choose themselves.
I’ll tell you what I’m scared of: that inner stretch. I didn’t have to get into an arranged marriage at 25 to know it wasn’t my path. The mere thought of it gave me pangs of that painful splitting apart of my insides. So I made a choice to follow my own inner guidance and not be coerced down this road. To stay loyal to myself. To not allow that split, and therefore to remain whole.
Maybe that’s what choosing yourself is – being whole. In mind, body, spirit and physical expression.
It all sounds so fluffy and romantic… aligning your inner vibes, following your heart, being strong and faithful to yourself. You know what? Don’t be fooled! It’s HARD sometimes! It’s PAINFUL sometimes! It damn straight SUCKS sometimes! You get judged, you feel guilty, you get confused, you wonder if you really can do it, you wonder if it’ll all go wrong, you wish you could just be ‘normal’ like everyone else, you veer off track, life gives you lemons and you accidently squeeze one right in your own eyeball.
BUT I still believe that all of that, is less painful than waking up each day and living a life that is not your own.
I wish everyone who chooses themselves, the courage to remain whole.