I have a bad habit of asking for permission. Specifically, I tend to seek approval when I make important decisions about the direction of my life. I have no problem breaking rules and flouting authority in my activism, but when it comes to my personal life, I ask for so much advice that I may as well take a public poll. There's nothing inherently wrong with asking for guidance; trusted counsel from the people I love has carried me through so much. The damage arises when I don't trust myself to make a decision independently. Requiring the blessing of my friends and family in order to make significant changes in my life is dangerous; not because I believe they will steer me wrong, but rather because I need to have faith in myself to choose the direction instead.
I know what it's like to move through life without that confidence. A toxic combination of anxiety and perfectionism kept me convinced, for many years, that I was not good enough. As a result, I second-guessed my instincts on a daily basis, and often sought the approval of others in deciding how I would shape my life. Granted, the advice I received almost always corroborated my intuition, and so the outcome was the same. There was a hollowness in my decision-making process, however, created by the vacuum of my insecurity. Instead of self-assurance, I felt an empty space deep within myself. That emptiness haunted me. My anxieties rattled in the void, echoing and amplifying each other. It was no way to make decisions, and certainly no way to be the architect of my own life.
Over the past several years, I have slowly but surely filled that space. I have thrown everything I can into the void to prove that I can have faith in myself. I have carefully logged life transitions, job offers, housing moves, recovery wins, health improvements, successful trips, activist victories, and other small but empowering choices. I have repeated this list to myself again and again. When the echoes return, I firmly point myself in the direction of my past, reviewing every single time I have trusted myself and reaped the rewards. And so, with no modest amount of effort, I have grown into a person who trusts herself entirely to build her own life.
If you read my recent post about fear and flying, then you may suspect that I was recently faced with a decision. It was important, one of the most important ones I have ever had to make. I panicked at first. I didn't tell anyone, fearing that speaking my thoughts and feelings aloud would make them real, and that I would then have to choose. They were already real, of course. I was not surprised that they persisted, much as I tried to repress them. Sheer will was not enough to quiet my heart and mind. It never is, and I knew that. What did surprise me was the quiet confidence that emerged from what used to be empty space. I realized that though my initial reluctance to seek advice was rooted in fear, I continued to keep my own counsel because I wanted to make the decision entirely on my own. I grew fiercely protective of my newfound courage. I resolved to set my course by myself, for myself. The only friend who I talked to about it is one of my best friends in the world. She does not give advice so much as ask questions, my answers to which offered the insights that I so desperately needed. Once I had the answers, the choice I needed to make became evident. For the first time in my life, I did not ask permission. I chose myself.
I will leave you with words from Cheryl Strayed, responding to several women who wrote into her "Dear Sugar" advice column at The Rumpus, which I initially read as part of her collection Tiny Beautiful Things:
"If there's one thing I believe more than anything else, it's that you can't fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It's a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees. And because of it, I can only ask...: Will you do it later or will you do it now?"
I choose to do it now. I choose myself.