How to live an authentic life for and as yourself. By: Aileen Xu / Lavendaire.
Do you ever find yourself pulled between what you want and what others want for you? Are you too afraid to be your true self or share your real thoughts? Do you care too much about what other people think?
Let’s talk about learning to live for yourself & not others.
From childhood, a lot of us begin our lives learning to live for our parent's approval and the approval of those around us—our peers, teachers, or society in general. This comes out of our desire for love and a sense of belonging. We seek love and acceptance from others, which is understandable, as one of Maslow’s psychological needs.
Eventually though, we must learn to love ourselves, and find within us the love, approval, validation and confidence we've been yearning for. Thus begins the journey of discovering internal validation over external validation.
Living for yourself means living the life that YOU want for yourself, regardless of the opinions of others. It’s living a life you feel aligned with, a life you love, and a life you are proud of.
Living for others means living to please others, living for external validation & approval, and caring about what others think. You’re setting your goals based on what others want for you (like your parents), or chasing what society deems as success.
Living for others can also mean wanting to do things to impress others, please others, or get approval from others, so you're not really being your authentic self and doing what you want. You're doing things because you care about how you appear to others.
Let’s first clarify that “living for yourself and not others” doesn’t mean you should live a selfish life without considering or helping other people. It means learning to put your own needs first, and making choices that align with your values; doing things because you want to, and not because other people are influencing you to.
If you want to help others, and it’s coming from an authentic place, then great. But don’t do it just because you feel obligated or pressured to.
Understand that your life is in your hands, and if you give away that power to anyone else, you’re taking away from your own.
Here are FIVE steps to begin living for yourself:
1. Know yourself & what you want
First things first, you have to know yourself and know what you want. The caveat is that sometimes, you don't know what you want. You’re not yet confident in your inner voice, or you haven’t had enough life experience to show you what you want.
In the book “101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think,” Brianna Wiest explains that you cannot predict what's going to make you happy, because everything your brain knows, is from past experience. For anything that you haven't yet experienced, you simply wouldn’t know whether it will make you happy or not. Everything that you think will make you happy is just based on the past. So if your experience is limited, you’ll have a limited idea of what would make you happy.
This is why it’s so important to go out and explore, meet people, seek out a variety of experiences and perspectives so that you open up your mind and see what’s possible for you.
Then, you can decide along the way, what kind of life you want to live.
2. Learn to be your authentic self
You have a voice, you have a personality, you have a certain energy about you. Let it show.
This might feel extremely uncomfortable and awkward if you’ve grown accustomed to filtering yourself or shifting who you are depending on the people around you. You’ve done this as a defense mechanism to shield yourself from any judgment or disapproval from others.
Learning to be your authentic self is about letting go, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, honest and real.
Listen to your inner voice, call it your heart, your intuition, or something else, That is your true self. Follow what gets you excited or what sparks your curiosity, even if it’s unpopular.
Be yourself, unapologetically. Keep practicing. You’ll get there.
3. Set your own standards
Create your own definitions for happiness and success. What kind of life do you want to live? What does a fulfilling life look like to you?
What values are important to you? Honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion? Or strength, determination and perseverance?
What areas of life are the most important to you?
There’s rarely a perfect balance of all areas, so you must choose & prioritize which areas matter to you most. Some might prioritize career and health, others might prioritize relationships and service.
Everyone is different. It’s completely up to you.
Note that if you set your standards too low, you’d be shying away from your full potential, and holding yourself back from living your best life.
If you set your standards too high, you’d be putting too much pressure and stress on yourself, which might be paralyzing or detrimental to your wellbeing.
There’s a sweet spot here, and you have the rest of your life to find it.
4. Live aligned to your own standards and desires
After setting your own standards for what you desire out of life, the next step is to live aligned to those standards. This means creating a life according to your own definitions for happiness and success, staying true to your values, and focusing your time and energy on the areas of life that matter to you most.
When you do this, you begin to approve of yourself, and you cultivate self worth and self confidence. You feel good about yourself, you start loving yourself more, and loving your life more. It's no longer about impressing others, it's about doing it for yourself, because that's what you decided you wanted out of life.
This is called living for yourself, and finding internal validation.
The more you do this, the less you will depend on external validation to prove your worth.
5. Keep growing
When you live for yourself, you take full responsibility for your actions and how you respond to life’s events. You can’t place the blame on anyone else. It’s all on you.
This includes keeping yourself in check and making sure you don’t overstay your comfort zone.
There’s a distinct difference between pursuing a life that makes you happy and a life that makes you proud.
When you focus solely on pursuing happiness, you run the risk of neglecting the things in life that are unpleasant yet necessary.
These might be:
- things that must get done, like chores or admin work or
- things that are uncomfortable, but could really help you grow.
If you’re happy with the way the way things are, you may feel like you don’t need to change, and thus stop pushing yourself to grow, take risks or step outside of your comfort zone. This may lead you to become lazy and unmotivated, causing your happiness and self confidence to decline.
To live a truly fulfilling life, you must aim to live a life you’re proud of. This includes stepping outside your comfort zone, doing things that scare you, and always doing your best.
By the way, it’s possible to be happy and grateful for the present moment, and also continue to push yourself to grow.
And as you grow in life, your standards will grow as well.
You realize it’s not about the destination. It’s about your growth, and how you expand in this process.
Living for yourself is choosing a life of responsibility, freedom and fulfillment.
You have the power to steer your life in any direction you choose. As I like to say, you are the artist of your life. Life is an art. Make it your masterpiece.
GUEST BLOGGER: Aileen Xu is a content creator, entrepreneur and artist of life. She is the founder of Lavendaire, a resource for lifestyle design and personal growth.