How to stop living for others and start living for yourself

We’ve all done it. Just as we start to get excited about a new venture or spread our wings, that little voice of doubt comes up and says, “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if I fail?” and a favourite amongst the South Asia community, “Log kya kahenge?” i.e. “What will people say?” 

For many of us, that’s the end of our new venture. We’ve given up before we’ve even started. Our thoughts and hopes shoved to the back of our minds while we move forward with the lives that other people think are best for us.

Looking to others to validate ourselves is the quickest and most guaranteed way for us to self-sabotage our own happiness.

I call that type of lifestyle a “proving” lifestyle. We contort our lives according to what others (parents, family, friends, strangers, anyone) define as “happy” and “successful.”

A “proving” lifestyle can show up in many different ways: from the careers that we choose, our life partners, our homes and our clothing. Financially we find ourselves buying newer cars even when we can’t afford it, the latest designer clothing even when we’re barely making our credit card payments or showing up for a job that we hate because of the status it brings. When we’re living a “proving” lifestyle, we measure our self-worth against arbitrary numbers in the bank.

Emotionally, a proving lifestyle can translate to staying committed to unhealthy relationships or close ourselves off entirely from others to save from disappointment. We accept unacceptable behaviours (even abuse) to avoid societal stigma.

Living a “proving” lifestyle is damaging and possibly even dangerous. We’re risking our financial and emotional well being to satisfy the demands of those around us.

There’s another problem with leading a “proving” lifestyle. No matter what you buy, what you study or whom you marry, it will never be enough. In this lifestyle, you’re always pushing the rock up the hill to get approval only to have it roll back down again.

So, how do we move from a “proving” lifestyle into a life where we’re challenged, stimulated, enriched and happy?

We start by embracing an “improving” mindset. As a life and business coach, I’ve worked with numerous clients to help them through this transition. The steps that I’m sharing with you today are some of the most effective ways to help you start moving forward.

The steps that I’m sharing with you today are some of the most effective ways to help you start moving forward.   

  1. Always look inwards.
    I recommend that you practice self-reflection daily. Start a journal, write down your life wish list, create a vision board, or jot your thoughts on your phone or a sticky note pad.
    Ask yourself:
    What would I still be doing this if no one heard about it? What brings me joy? Who am I doing this for? Writing these thoughts down helps you become more aware/mindful of what brings you joy. Self-awareness always leads to progress.
  2. Every problem that comes to you because you have a solution.
    When life gives us a problem, we often know what we have to do to solve it. The struggle actually comes from us not wanting to enact the solution. That’s why it’s essential to ask yourself what it is that is holding you back from following through with the answer. Is it pride? Fear? Or is it out of your comfort zone? Once you determine what’s holding you back, you’ll be able to address it and move forward.
  3. Believe in yourself. This step requires constant check-ins and self-reflection. When we’re living a life of “proving,” we’re always waiting for the next purchase, vacation or promotion to validate ourselves.

    However, once we consciously start moving towards an “improving” lifestyle, we realize that we are the only ones who can give ourselves confidence.

  4. You’re not alone. Reach out. This step is critical in moving from proving to an improving mindset. When reaching out for support, think of those people who have supported you through previous setbacks. Chances are these people who are your true champions and will help you achieve your goals.

    If you’re uncomfortable reaching out to your network, I recommend reaching out to a life coach who will help you articulate what you want and help you achieve it.

  5. Understand that life is constant learning. Failure is a part of the process. When we’re trying anything new, whether it’s a new skill or task, mistakes will happen. Think of a young toddler who is learning how to walk; they stumble, fall, and then get back up. Nothing worth it is easy.
  6. Remember, you are your biggest competition. One of the most significant components of a “proving” life is the constant comparison to others around us. For many of us, these comparisons start at a young age when our parents tout our peers’ success as a way to motivate us. In many cases, these constant comparison yields the opposite effect- we begin to resent those peers, feel unworthy and are continuously left comparing ourselves to others.

    However, once we start focusing on improving our own lives, the only people we compare ourselves against are ourselves. After all, the goal of an “improving” life is to be the best version of yourself.

Once you embrace an improving mindset, you’ll start to see things differently. You’ll be less distracted by how other people (including your family) measure success. You’ll be living a life based on your expectations, not anyone else’s.