Some words of encouragement to help you break free from the expectations of others, follow your dreams and start living life for yourself
I spent 7 months living in South America in 2017.
My realisations there completely changed the way I now live my life.
I’m going to share one of those realisations today.
And it is this:
You don’t have to live the life that others expect of you, no matter how much pressure you get from society, family or even yourself about it.
My story: How I learnt to live for myself, not others
I grew up in a middle-class Chinese family.
In Chinese culture there are a lot of rules on what’s deemed an acceptable or unacceptable life decision.
Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant or investing in property equals good.
Artist, Musician, Sportsman or taking off and travelling the world equals not so much.
Growing up I was always taught to study hard, get good grades, go to university, find a stable career, then work hard to climb the ladder so that I can earn progressively better pay and titles. My life then would be set.
I diligently followed this path, trusting that it would take me to happiness, fulfillment and where I needed to go.
But as I progressed into my twenties, I never felt the promised fulfillment.
I kept trying different things like changing companies, careers and roles but no matter what changes I made, after an initial high, the feelings of dissatisfaction would come back.
Looking back now, I can see that it wasn’t any company or role – it was the path that was causing the problem.
Following this type of conventional path was so ingrained in me by my parents, society and what everyone else around me was doing, I couldn’t see beyond it.
I didn’t believe any other path was possible or acceptable for me so I kept trying to make it work.
We all have it in our heads – what’s considered a ‘correct’ life to live, informed by things like our upbringing and the influences around us.
For me, it was this conventional path and for you maybe it might be the same or something different.
When I was in South America though, I lived a life that was the complete opposite to what I’d been told would make me happy…and I was ecstatically happy.
I couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t have money, didn’t eat as well, didn’t live as well, didn’t have as many material comforts. In all these conventional happiness measures, I was worse off. But I was happy.
Because I had challenges, growth, new experiences, relationships… and these were the things that fulfilled me, not the material wealth, security and comfort that I’d been taught to aim for.
This first-hand experience broke the blinders for me.
I was actually happier doing the opposite of what other people told me would make me happy. What? Crazy right?
I realised then that I had spent too long chasing a life others told me I should chase, trying to make it work for me but ending up going in circles, never satisfied.
I had been too comfortable, too lazy, too afraid, too ‘busy’ to actually figure out what I wanted from life.
Don’t make that mistake. If the life you’re living has you feeling like you’re living someone else’s script, break free from the safe and comfortable and search for what you truly want.
Break free from what you’re supposed to do, what everyone else is doing, what others expect of you. Follow your dreams. Find out what they are. Take the leap. You won’t regret it.
Like me, you might find something that surprises you and points your life in a whole new, and more exciting, direction.
Other people are already out there living for themselves
I think the people who have always followed the beat of their own drum are the happiest of us all, even if they don’t always have the conventional markers of success.
As I learnt first-hand, sometimes what you’re taught to chase is not what will ultimately fulfill you, you have to find that out for yourself and define your own version of success.
Being in South America, a place that was so culturally different, really opened my mind to all the variations of what a good life could look like.
In Cusco, Peru, I met Miguel who had been nomadic since he was 18. He earned his living by selling his craft and skills and apprenticing himself to other craftsmen.
His parents had been nomadic when he was younger but settled down when he turned 14 so he could attend school.
As soon as he could though, he took off. He told me he didn’t like living in one place and enjoyed seeing new places.
He was excitedly looking to earn his passage for his next destination – La Paz, Bolivia – a place he’d always wanted to see.
I also met kayak tour guides who had sea-kayaked along the length of the Chilean coast and lived in bunk beds inside a Patagonian national park, my host mum was a teacher for high school drop-outs who wanted a second chance, my host dad was a mechanic at the mine, a friend was a tour guide who started his own street-art themed tour company.
Experiencing such different people in different places made me realise there’s no single right way to live life.
There are so many variations of paths out there that real people are living. And if it’s possible for them, why not you?
The world hasn’t stopped for these people. They aren’t miserable and hating life because they aren’t on the conventional path we’re taught is the be-all and end-all.
They’re just like you and me, living their lives and getting on with it. The life that seems impossible and ludicrous to you is the norm for them.
What is the norm then? Truth is, there isn’t one. The norm for someone else could be completely different to the norm for you or me. That’s a freeing thought because it means the one correct route you think you need to follow doesn’t exist.
You don’t have to live the life others expect of you. In fact, you might find, as I did, that you’re happier without it.
Life is what you make it. So make sure you’re actually living it for yourself, and making something you want. There’s no point in anything else.