How to Stop Holding Yourself Back from What You Truly Want
As a first-generation, U.S. college graduate born in a family that immigrated from Mexico, I’ve worked hard all my life to get the things I wanted: good grades, a full time job, a car, and an apartment. I felt obligated to do my best in academics so that my parents knew their hard work raising me and helping me pay for school had paid off. Unfortunately, I wasn’t excellent at working hard for the things I also desperately needed: boundaries, patience, and self-reliance.
Don’t get me wrong — I knew when to say “no” to external things that made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. However, when it came to me saying “no” to letting internal factors — AKA emotions — take the wheel, I was pretty mediocre… maybe even below that. Despite trying my best to fight off my fear and insecurities, there were days that I thought I couldn’t make a good decision for myself. They were dark days in which I blamed, denied, resisted, and overall hid from my deepest truth: that I was the one holding myself back from truly being happy.
I was extremely lucky that I surrounded myself with friends who were able to give me tough love or a shoulder to cry on, depending on the situation. To have such a support system that still unconditionally loved me for me was miraculous and kept me moving forward. I thanked them for taking time to hear me out, picked myself up, and tried again. The pain of not being able to really listen to my heart always disappeared when I remembered I had to trust in my journey and in the extremely-human process of growing up.
In the past year, I realized that the goal wasn’t to be less of myself, but rather to DO less — less stressing out over what people thought about me, less overthinking about things that would have zero importance in my life in five years. It took a while to pinpoint it, but I realized that my icky/mean thoughts were coming from the anxiety that nagged relentlessly in the back of my mind. I recognized that this voice wouldn’t go away overnight and that this process was difficult and could take a while to fully master. But as long as I also remembered that the pesky voice was just another part of me that required love and space to just be but not control me, it got a little easier to recognize it as simply a wave that had to wash over me so that I could really let it be. The first few times I did this, I was amazed at how peaceful I felt and how proud of myself I was to have avoided a panic attack or a meltdown. I tasted my first sip of real, true personal freedom and I wanted to have that every day.
Create Positive Coping Mechanisms
In addition to my badass circle of friends, my therapist has been tremendously supportive in helping me recognize my behaviors without letting me berate or blame myself/others. She suggested I create coping mechanisms for handling any lingering stress that I may bring home from work or from any part of my day that causes me anxiety. So far, I’ve observed that what works for me varies depending on the energy and time I have that day or evening. Normally, though, I start out by just sitting or laying down in silence for 10-20 minutes, closing my eyes or focusing on my breathing. Some days I need to sweat out the stress at the gym immediately after leaving work, and other days I go straight home to my journal. No matter what I choose to do, I have a moment to let the negative feelings wash over me before I let them seep in and take control.
Take Ownership of Your Decisions
The benefits of doing some form of self-assessment on your thoughts and actions are limitless. It’s wonderful to see the importance of mental health and self-preservation being recognized more and more, but it’s nowhere near where it should be. This is why it’s crucial for us to be raising future generations to take ownership of their decisions, forgive themselves and others, self-examine their behavior and actually learn from it. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well yeah, shit happens and life is too precious to waste it worrying about things you can’t control,” then I applaud you, because some of us learn differently and are programmed to think in quite a different way until we break the cycle. Life will always fluctuate and bring us highs and lows, but it’s the way in which we choose to react (or not react) to the flow of things that gives us meaning and rhythm. And if you can learn to laugh at yourself while flowing with the rhythm of your life, you’ll be so much happier and able to truly attain the personal freedom that once seemed unattainable.