Without even noticing it, many of our actions are dictated by others’ expectations. By paying close attention to the behavior of people around me, I realized that our needs not only motivate us like Abraham Maslow once said, but they also limit us. They limit our growth, our potential, our authenticity. In efforts to satisfy our socio-psychological needs, we are limiting ourselves in countless ways.
After finishing my project, 100 Days Without Fear, I’ve dedicated my life to the study of fear. I started by dividing my 100 challenges into three categories: universal, cultural and personal fears. That’s when I discovered that our personal and cultural fears are screwing us up big time, and here's why:
We grew up with a need to belong to society and not be considered outcasts; whatever others are doing is what we should be doing as well. Society expects certain things from us, and as long as we meet those expectations, we will do ok in life, at least in the eyes of others. The majority of the people settle for this standard because it's the easy way out; it is the comfortable path. Behaving like others expect us to behave will get us approval.
Now, I want you to ask yourself, and try to write down a couple of different answers:
"What would you do (differently) if you weren't afraid of disappointing others?"
It frustrates me to see friends who are desperate to get married, not because they found "the one" but because they want to belong and do what society expects them to do. Many abandon their dream of becoming entrepreneurs or traveling the world or following their passions just because others expect them to find a stable job and settle down. I would see colleagues who would not speak up whenever they were in disagreement because of the fear of not belonging. It is easier to avoid confrontation. It is easier to satisfy expectations.
Our self-esteem is what keeps us going, keeps us happy and in peace. Sadly, our need to feel good about ourselves also limits our potential.
The moment you stop yourself from attempting something because of the fear of failing, you are holding yourself back from learning, discovering, and even succeeding. The moment you seek praise and ignore criticism, you're missing an opportunity to find a way to improve. And when you ask for approval before taking a risk, you're just looking for ways to split the guilt in case it doesn't go well. All of these are ways in which we trick ourselves to not hurt our self-esteem. It is up to us to challenge ourselves on a daily basis to seek growth, even if it hurts in the moment.
"You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety."
- Abraham Maslow
You can choose the safe path or the growth path. It's easy to tell them apart: The growth path will ALWAYS be the scarier one–quitting your job, getting a divorce, jumping into the unknown, pursuing your own happiness even if it means disappointing others, speaking up, coming out–you name it! If it makes you cringe, it's surely the growth path.
The more uncomfortable we get, the greater the reward. We need to get uncomfortable enough to prove to the universe how much we want the things we envision, otherwise, they will remain a vision.
"Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will." - Suzy Kassem
Before every decision, I invite you to quickly think of the need you're trying to fulfill, who will benefit, and where will it take you.
Let's be accountable for our lives, our destinies, our successes. Let's look at life's decisions through the growth lens so we can always choose the path that will take us forward, despite the fear it may bring.
"Allow yourself to be defined not by the things that make you normal, but by the ones that make you stand out." –Michelle Poler