Sometimes, to follow your own path in life requires you to create a new path that isn't expected, anticipated, desired or even understood by the people around you. It probably wasn't expected by you either, until you realised it's the most authentic choice available to you.
Who set down the expectations for your life, truly? The culture? Society? Your parents? Their parents? Your partner? Your teachers? Your university degree?
Are there really expectations you have to follow in life (other than the obvious responsibilities you have), or are they outworn constructs of your mind, fuelled by fear of going against the grain? Of making choices that won't bring validation or approval, that may indeed lead to rejection by people you love, or to spectacular failure and embarrassment?
These things will happen, to a degree. People relax when you follow the expected -- it doesn't challenge them in any way. Yet the truth is, some people won't understand what you're doing, ever. And those people probably won't try to understand because it's too threatening for them to do so. They may fear you'll change so much you'll reject them, or won't have room for them anymore.
Often, when you're in the early stages of change, it places a strain on some of your relationships. Loved ones may attempt to convince you not to change by warning you of all the pitfalls... all the reasons why it's a bad idea. Or they may indirectly put you down, sewing seeds of doubt in your mind about your abilities and your capacity to succeed/survive. You may feel pressure from them to stay well within the lines and keep doing the acceptable, respectable thing.
Red flag: that's their stuff, their fears, and while it can be painful to not have the support of those you love, you can try to have compassion for where they're at and not take it personally. And you can leave room for the possibility that they will support you a bit further down the track, when their fears subside and they see what it means to you.
One of the biggest challenges in forging your path is not allowing others' disapproval or lack of validation to become your excuse to give up.
The other challenge is being aware of the strong hypnotic pull of the culture's way of doing things, which will catch you unawares again and again, colluding with your fear and shame to convince you it's too risky. It's not easy to swim upstream when the mainstream current is flowing downstream; the force of the norm alone is a powerful deterrent, especially if you're a people pleaser.
Like a baby bird taking flight from the nest, it can take many attempts to fly before you truly take off. Just don't give up.
It's worth noting your true supporters are likely to be those taking courageous risks in their lives too. Those who are willing to follow their heart even when there's no guarantee of a favourable outcome. They're doing it because it's aligned to a deeper truth within, and that's their highest authority. These people truly get what it takes to try, fail and try again because they're doing it too.
Hint: you'll recognise them by the bright spark in their eyes. They emanate courage and vitality. Spend a bit of time around them and you'll want more. It's addictive because their courage shines a light on your potential, and they show you through their actions it is possible to challenge the status quo.
We all have potential. We all have gifts within us. We all have reserves of courage we can draw upon if we choose.
So yes it is a massive challenge to forge your own path in a sea of paths well trodden, where all eyes are pointing you in one direction, heavy with expectation of where and how you will take your precious steps.
But whose life are you living? Yours or someone else's?
Bronnie Ware, author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, said one of the biggest regrets people held at the end of their lives was not being true to themselves when they had the chance. They were too wedded to the norms of the day, to cultural and family expectations, to doing what they believed would please others.
But all those missed opportunities, all that unlived life in them, all the ignored dreams, brought anguish and regret at the end. With the gift of hindsight, they saw they could have taken more risks and spoken their truth more. They saw that the years of discontent were in fact windows of opportunity to have that fierce conversation, to take that risk, to make a different choice.
They realised life itself is an extremely precious gift. An opportunity to experience many different things. Above all, they wished they'd listened to their heart more.
It's unpopular yet sound wisdom to remember your mortality. We really don't know how much time we have here. Viewed from a big-picture lens, every day becomes precious. Stagnation is a sign of a life on hold, ruled by fear. Listening to the heart and taking action its most potent antidote.
This post was originally published on showingup.com.au.