I grew up feeling the slight pressure of expectations. My parents did the best they could and wanted the best for me. I was lucky I guess, growing up with loving parents and a younger brother I admired. My interpretation of them wanting the best opportunities for me was that I needed to do well academically at school. I was OK. I wasn’t at the top of the class and I wasn’t failing, I got by. That’s pretty much how my life continued after school. I got by.
I felt like I was following someone else’s plan
I went to University and then went travelling. Then I came home and worked in hospitality because it was easy and it was what I knew. I fell in love, got engaged, bought a house in the neighbouring town to my parents and grandparents. If you’d have asked me at the time if I had a plan, I’d have said no, however, I did, I had an unconscious plan. I was doing what my parents had done. They were ok at school, went to teacher college, met each other & fell in love, got married and travelled on their honeymoon and then came home to their careers as school teachers (a secure and lifelong career choice) and then had me.
We all have a conscious and an unconscious (or a subconscious mind, depending on what you call it). To put it in another way, think of our conscious mind like the apps on our smartphones, we are consciously aware of what apps are installed on our phone because there is a visual representation of each app on our screen. What we are not consciously aware of is the programming that sits behind each app running the software.
The programming is complex so only some people understand it. The general population of users are locked out of changing the programming and when the operating system of the phone is updated sometimes this can have an effect on how well the app will run. It might get glitchy, slow, or stop working altogether.
As with our conscious and unconscious mind. We have much that we are consciously aware of – many of our thoughts, what we are focussing on, what we can see, smell, touch and taste around us. What we are not aware of is the programming that is automatically running in the background forming our beliefs, our patterns for how and when we feel certain emotions, what behaviours we show and how we respond in certain situations or to some people.
I Started To Question Everything
I didn’t realise that I had an unconscious plan. That I was fulfilling a picture of life that I’d grown up with, that I was surrounded by growing up. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all had a similar life structure, married young, had kids and stayed living around a similar location for most of their lives.
Morris Massey coined the term ‘Imprint Period’ relating to the age range from 0-7. What he noticed was that it was during this period that we are like a sponge, that we are beginning to form a personality, core behaviours and beliefs during this time. We notice all that is happening around us and it influences how we live life, what we do in life, what careers and relationships we choose or don’t choose, how we respond to positive experiences and negative experiences, who we spend time with and so on.
Life is so complex that we need some automated responses to guide us in life, this is what our unconscious does. When we are 0-7 we don’t choose who we listen to, who we spend time with, who or what we are influenced by. If the people we grew up with ate vegetables or not, if they smoked, if they were active and so on. As an adult there are many automatic behaviours that work for us (brushing our teeth, getting dressed, drinking water etc) however there are also behaviours that may not work for us, behaviours that take us away from our ‘conscious’ goals like choosing unhealthy foods, being shy, getting angry too quickly, sitting on the couch rather than exercising, jumping from relationship to relationship, not knowing how to be alone, feeling guilty too often etc.
It took quite a while for me to notice that I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing in life. That the unconscious plan I had been following may not have been mine, maybe it was inherited from my parents and that I was doing it to fit in, to be like everyone else. I was too scared to question whether I really wanted to be in a relationship, whether I really wanted to work in hospitality, whether I really wanted to have children someday or live in the town I grew up in. Everytime the thoughts and questions popped up I pushed them down and carried on. I figured that the more I kept going in my life as it was, the easier it would be.
I couldn’t ignore the feeling that I should be doing something different
I was wrong. The more I pushed down and avoided the nagging feeling that I wasn’t happy, that I didn’t have everything figured out that maybe I didn’t want everything I had been working for, the louder the voice in my head got, the more unsettled I felt until one day, out of nowhere I stopped and acknowledged the growing sense of uncertainty.
Talking to my friends and family was tough, I didn’t really know what to say, I was vague and said I wasn’t feeling right. I ended the relationship I was in, and people were confused because to them, and to my partner, it seemed out of nowhere. I’d been so good at keeping up appearances for myself and everyone else that it was a shock when I changed jobs and moved to a different state.
I couldn’t explain it at the time that I needed space to work out who I was and what I wanted. Again, I was lucky because I met someone who had been through something similar, someone who was there for me but also helped me to grow independently, someone who didn’t judge and who helped me to ask better questions of myself. Questions like what do I really want? And what effort am I willing to put in to get it? I had to be more emotionally mature in myself and in making my decisions. It was important to me to choose what I wanted and stand by the rewards and consequences.
By acknowledging to myself that I didn’t have everything figured out and accepting that it was ok, I created space to consider what I really wanted, who I wanted to be, how I wanted to experience life. I questioned what limitations I had that were real and what were imagined. The imagined limitations were many. I was too shy, I wasn’t street smart, I didn’t make friends easily, I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t educated in finance. Rather that let them get to me I highlighted the ones that would make the biggest difference. What are the limitations I’ve placed on myself that are the gatekeepers to more of what I desire.
I Needed To Know I’d Be OK
I was shy & didn’t know how to meet new people. This held me back in getting interviews for jobs I was interested in, I didn’t go on dates, I didn’t start or continue conversations with new people. This was limiting my experience of life. I started by finding someone who knew what it was like to be shy and had learned how to be confident. It wasn’t easy or comfortable but I found a way to apply what I was learning. My confidence grew and I built on the little successes and worked on me, learning about me I also learnt about others. I took time and thought about what I wanted, and also what I didn’t want to miss out on. If I was 90 looking back on my life, what were the experiences and the people that were most important to me?
These questions helped me to choose what to focus on, I still don’t have everything figured out but I do know what direction I’ve chosen to go in and I continue to choose everyday the person I want to be. I choose to grow every day, I choose to question and make decisions about who I am and what I want. My life isn’t so similar to my parents now, and while I’m sure that it hasn’t always been easy for them to understand, they support me the best way they can in my choices. They’ve watched me grow as a person, they’ve watched me build on successes. The things that are most important to me, that I value haven’t really changed, I’m just more aware of them. I value family, friends, growth, financial independence, fun experiences and so much more.
Once you know what you want, go for it!
Maybe you have a plan in life, in which case go for it, keep chasing it and celebrate the achievements and moments. Maybe your plan has changed, and circumstances have forced a re-evaluation in which case start with listing who and what’s most important to you and build from there. Maybe you’re wondering if you want more than you planned, so go for it, work it out, work out who you want to be, write it down, begin with the big picture, put it up on your wall. Make a plan on how you are going to get there and review it every 6-12 months. Notice the things you’ve done towards your goals and be real about what ‘s taken you off track.
When you really look, don’t make it seem worse than it is, but also don’t make it seem better than it is, just notice as it is. If you do notice some things are off track, don’t be too upset. Now that you know, you can prepare for it and have a better shot at preventing it from taking you off track in the future.
When reviewing your plan, look at the weakest link and work on that first, build a strong foundation and find people who have been where you want to go as they can help you avoid some of the pitfalls, they can encourage you or give you a nudge along the way.
Whatever it is for you, sometimes it’s ok to admit you don’t have everything figured out. The next step is what you do knowing that. I strongly encourage you to work out what you want and go for it. For me it started with learning about myself, it started with little things, small behaviours, baby steps that grew more confident and bolder over time