I lived part of my life on autopilot.
I was in the passenger seat, and someone else was driving the car.
I was just sitting there, watching my life unfold behind my eyes, feeling like I had little to no control over what was happening. As if my life story was already written from the beginning until the end, and I was a mere spectator.
And let me tell you one thing: it's NOT a great way to live life. It's not really living. It's existing, at best.
I let my parents' and societal expectations have power over me and my life for far too long, at the detriment of my happiness. Many people live their entire lives with a similar outlook, swallowing their opinions and giving voice to others instead.
But at some point, I snapped out of it. I realized I was miserable. I realized I was no longer the main character of my own life. It wasn't even my life I was living.
It's not the easiest to find your way back to the driver's seat, but it's not impossible either. Here are five ways you can live as the protagonist in the story of your life:
1. Exist on your own terms
Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? - Charles Bukowski
If I wanted to meet my parent's expectations, today I would probably be a married engineer with a bunch of kids still living in a small town. I can't emphasize enough how far away I am from being any of these things.
But there was a time when I was somehow close to getting there. I thought that's what my life had to be. That's what others wanted it to be, at least. And I didn't listen to what I actually yearned for.
The main characters are interesting because they have something unique to them that they own. They live their life on their own terms. And they aren't formless blobs of people mass-produced in the Mediocre Humans Factory.
How to do it:
Start being curious about yourself. What things excite you, challenge you, make you feel alive? Who you wanted to be growing up?
Maybe the reason you can't get out of a rut is that you forgot what YOU want to do with your life. You should never settle for a life that isn't truly yours. It's not worth it.
2. Stop pointless comparisons
Comparison is an act of violence against the self.― Iyanla Vanzant
There will always be someone who has more than you.
Even when you were just a kid, I'm sure there were was some other genius kid that got accepted to Harvard while you were still trying to figure out how to burp the entire alphabet in one go.
That's life. We all deal with highs and lows, just different kinds of them. And you still get to be the main character of your story with all of your strengths, flaws, and whatever else is in the mix.
You gain absolutely nothing by obsessively stalking your high school friends to see how many of them just bought a new house, got promoted at work, or got married. But you can lose yourself.
How to do it:
Getting off social media can be beneficial temporarily, but it won't prevent you from falling into the social comparison trap in the real world.
So instead of rolling in your misery, try to understand what makes certain people envy-worth and use that knowledge for your benefit. Why are they successful? Why exactly do you envy them? How can their story inspire you?
3. Don't Give a F***
You probably wouldn't worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do. - Olin Miller
There are many things in life we have to care about. But there is also an overwhelming amount of shit that we spend hours obsessing over, which doesn't really matter - like what other people think of us and how we can make them like us more.
People-pleasing is a form of control; we want to control other people's perceptions of us. We want to be what they expect, want, and need us to be liked and accepted.
And even if you try to be the best, kindest, most pleasant person to be around, there will STILL be people judging and criticizing you. Yup, there are some absolute garbage human beings out there.
But main characters know they ultimately have no control whatsoever over what people think of them. And so, they don't spend their lives enslaved to giving a f***.
How to do it:
We can't control what others say or do, but we CAN control our reaction to it. We can decide that some things are simply not worth our time and energy.
Whenever I feel like I'm letting something silly get to my head, I ask myself whether it will still matter to me a year from now. Most things won't. So I let it go.
4. Embrace being flawed
Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order. - Anne Wilson Schaef
Trying to be perfect it's a trap set up by our high achieving, competitive world. And 'living the dream' is a mere illusion of achieving perfection.
No one is really perfect.
Not even the Kardashians of this world who might want to convince you otherwise. They are just better at hiding what's wrong with them.
Imperfections and flaws are what make us human. There will always be there. And some of them make you delightfully, uniquely you.
The main character who is perfect is just boring. They have nothing that makes them interesting. They will never develop and grow. Who would want to read a story like that?
How to do it:
Societal expectations of perfection permeate everything we hear from buy this, wear this, do this to be loved, desirable, successful, etc.
The truth is, you don't need to be perfect to be all these things, but you do need to accept yourself the way you are. And what can help with it is practicing self-love - creating an environment for yourself in which you can make mistakes, grow and flourish.
5. Live in the now
Life is a preparation for the future, and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.― Albert Einstein
Most of us spend too much of the present time obsessing with the future or regretting the past.
According to medical research, 80% of our daily thoughts are negative, and 95% are repetitive. This means that every day we go back to practically the same bad or embarrassing moments and have the same worries about what might happen in the future.
Over and over and over again.
In a way, we're stuck in an unrelenting Groundhog Day. Unless we decide to do something about it.
To live a fulfilling life as the main character of our own story, we must be present. Because the present is the only moment we are actually living, it is the only moment that we can take action.
How to do it:
I used to spend countless hours in moments that didn't exist. My mind tried hard to keep me in the past or future. Never present.
What helps is acknowledging when your mind does that - tries to creep in and take away your 'present-ness'. You can refuse to give in to what it wants. Stay here and now. Meditation helps with that as well.
We are all our own main characters; we just need to live as though we're writing our story with intention.
So the next time somebody else tries to give you stage directions, remember that YOU have the final say in how your story will play out.
The main characters are interesting because they have something unique to them that they own. […] they aren't formless blobs of people mass-produced in the Mediocre Humans Factory.
This story was originally published on Medium.