Shame. If there’s any word that encompasses the state of my emotional wellbeing more than any other right now, it would be this word. I’ve been feeling a lot of shame. I am so darn worn out from shame.
The big culprit of all the shame I’ve been feeling really boils down to one thing: expectations. Expectations in my career decisions. In my relationships. In my spiritual life. Even in blogging.
No one has ever said to me, “Sara, I expect you to work (insert number) amount of hours each week,” or “I expect your walk with Jesus to look like x-y-and-z.” But that’s the thing about expectations—they may only ever be implied or even just self-imposed, but the result of not measuring up to them is the same.
In the past few weeks, I’ve settled some decisions that were hard to make because doing so made me feel weak. Selfish. Less than enough. I decided to step away from one of my jobs in order to take better care of my mental health. The voices, although all internal, still shouted loudly at me as I weighed my options.
You wimp! You should be able to hold down two part time jobs with no problem!
Plenty of people don’t get to choose to cut their hours because they need the money. You are so privileged and spoiled.
Everyone’s going to judge you for doing this. You’d be able to handle this if you weren’t so weak.
You can’t quit! You need the extra money now more than ever for student loans, a wedding, a house—what are you doing?? You’re such a disappointment!
Do you see the expectations here? “I expected you to be stronger.” “I expected you to be more like everyone else.” “I expected you to make this situation work.” “I expected you to contribute more.”
As my stress level mounted and shame tightened its grip around my throat, somewhere out of the chaos came a truth that helped free me to not only make, but own the decisions I knew were best for me.
It came to me one night while driving home from my evening job. I was processing verbally (as I often do while driving) all the stress and worry I had been feeling, when a powerful diamond of a truth emerged.
“Sara, you are the only one who’s ever going to live your life, and the only life you’re ever going to get to live is the one you have.”
I was so struck by the profoundness of that statement, that I repeated it out loud to myself again.
“You are the only person who’s ever going to live your life, and the only life you’re ever going to live is yours.”
I felt like a kid in front of a huge pile of Legos being told to create whatever my heart desired. No pressure to make something that looked like what other kids were making, and no fear of what other people might think of whatever it was I’d choose to create.
I pulled into my driveway that night understanding in a whole new way that my life decisions weren’t something to feel shame about; they were opportunities to create just the kind of life that fit me. It felt like permission to let go of all those expectations I’d been holding on to like helium-filled balloons. And I was so ready to let them all go.
Imagine that child again with tons of Legos and a completely blank slate to start building on. What energetic, imaginative child would spend more time panicking about what she or he was going to build instead of diving right into the pile to start choosing pieces? You can’t create anything beautiful or unique or enjoyable if you let fear and shame take control of the process.
Is it not the same with building our lives?
The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed to me that I’d spent so long letting things like shame and fear of judgment waste the precious time I’d been given to build my life. I was outraged that I’d let expectations waste such a precious and incredible opportunity to create something so totally unique, and to let myself engage the creative spirit in me.
Why do we so easily let expectations control and waste our lives? What do we have to lose except the supposed “approval” from other people whose opinions probably don’t really matter in the end anyway?
I’m determined to stick with this perspective shift and plunge full-force into designing a life that’s best for me. One that’s responsible, intentional, empathetic, and loaded with grace.
Because this life is the only one I’ve been given to live, and not a single other person is ever going to have to live it except me.
And that’s a phrase to live by, liberated and free.