It’s night time and you’re home with your friends or family—and suddenly it’s very dark. The electricity went out. You stumble around until you find your torchlight, which of course is never an easy task even when the lights are on. You flip the torch on, and then you go back to find your spouse, partner, children, friends, or whoever is with you. You shine the light toward them so they can see to move without tripping over anything.
Now, think about what you just did. By shining the light toward them, you were putting yourself in the dark.
In many instances, we’re doing the same when it comes time for us to take a chance on ourselves and focus on our happiness. Instead of shining the light on ourselves, we focus the beam elsewhere.
How Our Roles Define Us
From the time we’re small girls, we are taught that women fulfill set roles and follow fixed rules. There are specific boxes that women are expected to fit into—wife, mother, beautiful, thin, successful, stylish. We attach things like happiness, fulfillment, and contentment to these roles and boxes. We think that is we can just manage to fit ourselves in each box, then everything will be perfect.
There is nothing wrong with each of these roles. Being a wife, or a mother, or thin, or successful isn’t inherently bad. The roles aren’t the problem.
The problem is that many women spend a lifetime pursuing this perfect picture of happiness, only to watch it stay just out of reach. Or, for some, they get the “picture perfect” life, but still find themselves feeling unfulfilled. The danger with these set roles is women, and men, too, are not taking the time to understand themselves and create a life that is true to who they are.
As a uniquely gifted person, you will start to fade into the darkness as you try to become everything you’re not. You will be shining your light on other people and things instead of using the light to find your own way.
How We End Up Lost
Every journey is made easier when we have someone who will walk it with us. All of us at some point in our lives will play a supportive role, whether it be to a spouse, friend, family member, or coworker. We will turn the torchlight from our own path and shine it on another’s; we will provide support. After all, it’s a role we are prepared to fill.
When we are wee girls, part of the typical play that we participate in teaches us to play a supportive role. Some of those roles we mentioned before are traditionally framed by primarily playing the supportive role for those in our lives. It’s not bad to be supportive; in fact, I encourage everyone to be supportive of those in our lives. But, there is danger is getting caught up in the supportive role.
By walking with someone on their journey, oftentimes we lose sight of our own path. Suddenly, we can’t see past the small circle of light in front of us. Or maybe we never found our own path, and now we’ve affixed our potential contentment on someone else’s path.
Let’s look at it from a different angle. Walk next to someone on their journey, while you walk your journey as well. Be supportive, but be supportive of others by showing them where to find their own torchlight. Don’t walk so closely with someone else that you can no longer figure out whose path you’re on.
Be Your Own Support System
I was talking to a very close friend of mine recently who said she is moving to another country. She has finally decided enough is enough, she was tired of not seeing results from all of her hard work. Instead, she’s going to follow her passion. So, she quit her job where she had been working up to 14 hours every day, fulfilling the role she felt was expected of her.
She called up her friend, who will call Susie so we don’t confuse anyone. Susie was a friend with whom she had been very supportive of throughout their friendship, and especially through some difficult times. She told Susie the good news, letting her know how excited she was and relieved to be moving on to the next step in her life that will hopefully provide much more satisfaction and fulfillment. Her friend was not excited for her, though.
Susie said, “No, you can’t do this to me and my kids. We need you in our lives, and I need your support.”
She immediately realized that she had lost sight of her own path in every aspect of her life. At work, she had been supportive of the team, sacrificing her own ambition and desires to be what she thought was expected of her. In her friendship with Susie, she had sacrificed her own desire for support because she was trying to be the person Susie expected.
She had shared her torch with everyone else, remaining stuck in the dark or in its small circle of light that illuminated someone else’s path.
For those who have achieved that picture perfect life, but you still feel discontent, remember this: You cannot spend a lifetime being grateful.
You love your job, your family, your friends, and you support them. You play the role that is expected of you, either because that’s the role you expected or because that’s the role someone else expects. You should put in the effort to be present, to be strong and supportive, most definitely, because these things are important in relationships. But, if you spend all of your time being supportive without using some of your energy to focus on yourself, then it’s time to reclaim some of your time and energy.
When we know we’re not satisfied or fulfilled, but we continue on without any outward sign, I call this the Chihuahua effect. Why? Because inside, we’re raging. We’re barking and screaming to be heard. Inside, we are screaming, when will it be enough?
When will you matter? When will you start on your own path? When will you become who you’re meant to be? When do you intend to put yourself first?
It will spill out eventually, somehow. Discontentment will overflow, and then in that moment, you will have to make a choice.
I don’t want to be selfish, Omozua.
Caring for yourself does not mean you are abandoning others. It is not an act of selfishness. It is simply exercising self-love and self-respect, both of which can only come from one place—within us.
Don’t let another day of life go by before you admit that you are exhausted and you are done with putting yourself last. Continuing on this path won’t give you recognition, validation, or satisfaction. Do not allow yourself to continue on this path that will only end in resentment.
If you realize that something needs to change, but you choose not to make that change, your loved ones will not thank you for your choice. They may not appreciate you putting yourself first, but they won’t appreciate you putting yourself last only to have your discontentment overflow onto them, either.
The moment you realize and admit that you could do, be, and have a life that is a true expression of you, you have a choice to make. Choose to step into the destiny you were meant to live. Don’t allow your fear of the unknown to control you. If you don’t, then there is no one else to blame for your unhappiness.
It’s wonderful to shine for others, but don’t forget to shine as your authentic self first. Be your own support system, starting right now.
Omozua invites you to join her and a community of like-minded women who are determined to live life on their terms, instead of by a predetermined formula.
To learn more about uncovering your authentic self and purpose, read Omozua’s post with Two Tips for Finding Your Inner Purpose.