I tried to bite my nails once again as I waited outside the Principal’s door.
But nothing came up this time.
I had already chewed them to raw stumps.
My brother seemed no less anxious and miserable. He was in trouble once again with the school.
And this time, it was up to me to rescue him.
I was to play his proxy parent in the parent’s teacher meet.
Because this wasn’t my brother’s first rodeo. And our real parents couldn’t muster the courage to face the ordeal again.
Now, today I can empathize with them somewhat.
I understand that they felt ashamed, maybe embarrassed, and maybe even afraid.
But that day, for the scared, anxious, 16-year-old boy, sympathizing with them felt impossible.
The principal was physically and verbally abusive toward the students.
Now, technically I was no longer a student there. But that didn’t feel like much of a protection.
I was terrified.
I felt I’m being pushed toward things that I was not ready for.
I felt helpless. I felt betrayed.
Still, the meeting went much better than I anticipated (probably because the Principal took pity on me).
That day, an idea started to take shape.
If I’m the one who people need to call for tough tasks like these…
Then maybe I’m special?
Now, I was born and groomed into approval addiction.
I was either putting out fights between my parents. Or I was being the problem-free “good” child.
Or I was being placed in ridiculous situations like the one above.
People pleasing had always been the way of my life.
But now, it had a purpose. It was now an ego booster.
Maybe I AM different.
Maybe I AM better than them.
It was an intoxicating thought.
And it drove me down deeper into approval addiction.
I used to spread myself thin and scrape myself raw to be of service to others.
And it gave my ego a huge boost.
“I do this because I’m the only one who can.”
“The rest are weak.”
But deep within me, there was another voice that kept whispering…
“You are nothing”.
“You are worthless”.
“As long as you keep doing this for your family, you have value. Stop doing that and they will stop needing you. They will throw you away.”
I had no concept of healthy bonds or a feeling of safety and security.
I thought this is all there is to families.
This is all there is to life.
It was a depressing thought. And it kept running through my head over decades.
My life was increasingly void of meaning and purpose.
I wanted to believe that there’s more to life than this kind of existence in limbo.
I wanted to feel alive.
Yet I had no clue how to bring about that change.
So I kept trudging through similar patterns. And I kept growing cold and dusty.
Then one day, I met her.
She was a colleague from work. We started getting along well.
I saw how she lived her life on her own terms. Not a care in the world.
Painting and creating artwork. Buying dresses and accessories on a whim. Traveling to different places to attend festivals and parades.
It was a breath of fresh air.
Yet it brought waves of confusion.
Here I was – secretly scoffing at people living life on their own terms and placing their wants and needs first.
I thought of them as immature or juvenile.
I thought growing up means growing cynical and learning to spend yourself as currency to earn love and respect.
But here was a woman I had started to admire (and maybe get a bit attracted to as well). And she stood against everything I believed.
Yet she seemed to be having the time of her life.
The dissonance was hard to stomach.
The seed of doubt had been planted in my mind.
And slowly it started to make cracks in my long-held belief.
I realized that there are better life philosophies than the one I’m living.
I don’t need to throw my life away. I don’t need to keep a lid on all my wants and needs.
And making myself available for everyone for their use doesn’t have to be the way of life for me.
Now if you’re expecting a happy ending here – there isn’t. Not yet anyway.
That friendship ran its course pretty soon though.
We had a bitter fight.
She made some accusations. I won’t lie – they stung.
At that time I was livid.
How dare she?
How can someone as juvenile as her say things like that to someone as mature (LOL) as me?
But looking back – she was right. Mostly.
It was a painful wake-up call for me.
I realized that my insecurities had made me quite clingy toward her.
And I had started to smother her in the same way I had always done for the family.
That friendship didn’t survive.
But the lessons did.
I had started to realize that being always a martyr and putting others first doesn’t make me a better person.
And it’s never going to bring me the love and respect I desire from others.
So I decided to change.
I started putting myself first.
I started running 10 KM events. I always wanted to learn a string instrument. So I took up the violin.
I started asking for raises and promotions at work.
I started enforcing hard boundaries with my family. I stopped always being available with my time and energy for them.
I moved into a leadership position in my org and started earning way more than I used to.
I grew closer than ever to my family.
Then I created a Twitter account and started teaching people about what I learned.
I grew a significant following. I met amazing creators, friends, and mentors on the way.
And then I started coaching people.
Today after coaching half a dozen people, and helping countless others – I’ve come a long way.
Today I feel more alive, more content more purposeful, more fulfilled, healthier, and happier than ever.
My cynicism and ego centricity is mostly gone (it’s never fully gone but it’s always a work in progress).
I welcome each day with gratitude and curiosity.
How’s that for a happy ending? 🙂
Now today, I want to ask you a question.
How does reading that story make you feel? Can you relate?
Do you feel a similar sense of martyrdom holding you back?
Then it’s time to let it go.
Let go of your superiority.
And let go of the tendency to scoff at people who are living life on their own terms.
You can’t imagine how better life can get on the other side.
Take a step towards that new life today.
And if you want my help to get started – I’m just one reply button away.
Let’s figure it out together.