We’ve now managed to survive an entire week of 2019 — congrats! It’s a time of reflection, self-evaluation, and goal-setting as the entire world looks toward a shiny clean slate of life.
Even if you don’t make New Year’s resolutions (and to be honest, I fully maintain that any day of the year is a good day to make a change in your life, and it’s better to make one small sustainable change than to jot down a dozen resolutions doomed for failure), there is something powerful about starting fresh in January.
But rather than compiling a list of resolutions without the foundations to fulfill them, I urge you to take the time to reflect on some underlying mindset changes that belong left in the past.
What are the things that held you back in 2018? What were the insecurities, ways of thinking, or negative influences in your life that prevented you from being your best and truest self? And what are some practical ways to overcome those hindrances and move forward more effectively?
I’m sharing about the 3 things that held me back the most in 2018, and how I overcame them. By identifying these personal shackles and working through them, I can step into 2019 feeling freer and better equipped to run after whatever goals I set for myself in the months ahead.
A quick review of my 2018.
In a lot of ways, I feel like this year lasted no longer than 20 seconds; in other ways, I feel like I’ve crammed five years of change and growth and living into the past 365 days, which wasn’t always a very fun experience.
I flew on 47 flights, checked 5 new countries (and dozens of new cities) off my bucket list, wrote my first e-book, moved to Bali, broke my first bone and had my first stitches (and also my second stitches), and spent about five million dollars on coffee (that last one’s not unique to 2018, to be fair).
It’s wild to think that I began 2018 at a big, White-shoe law firm in Washington, D.C., feeling like I couldn’t last another day at work, but clueless about what to do next and afraid to make a change. I’m ending 2018 having stepped away from my law career, moved to Indonesia, and started a new life as an entrepreneur, finally deciding to speak my dreams and goals into reality and pursue them.
But let’s be real here — there was an entire year of hard work and setbacks before coming to the point of health in which I now live. There was an entire year of living in dysfunction, being forced to face it, getting to a point where I felt willing and able to make change, and then trying day after day to work through these issues.
It was humbling. It was hard. I injured myself . . . a lot. Some days I accomplished things of which I never imagined I’d be capable, and other days I stared blankly at my computer until the sun went down and I could go to sleep.
Overall, it’s been a year of intense personal growth, as I came to realize how so many unhealthy habits and mindsets were holding me back in life. But through realizing these things, I also was able to work through them and adopt more positive, healthy life practices.
There’s still a long way to go and a lot of lessons to be learned. But here are the 3 things that held me back the most in 2018, and some tips on how I overcame them.
1) Caring too much about what people think about me
Confession: I have always, always, always cared about people’s opinions about me. I’ve wanted my friends and family to approve of me, my community, society, and even strangers on the other side of the world. I’d often feel independent and confident, but when push came to shove, I’d choose the path of least resistance — i.e., the path that would receive the least amount of disapproval.
But this is hardly a way to live. Eventually those disapproving people leave your life or move on to fight some other silly battle, and their opinions no longer matter. But you’re still left as a hodgepodge of different life choices, opinions, and rules that have little to do with your own convictions and desires, and so much more to do with your fleeting environmental influences. You’re left as a person that you let the world around mold and create — a person that, likely, you won’t recognize or even really like that much.
You were made for so much more than that. I was made for so much more than that. There is no voice or power or innovation that can come from that place, and there is no true confidence in a fragile identity built on foundations as fleeting as the thoughts of strangers.
This year I had to make a lot of big, hard decisions that I knew would be misunderstood by many — leaving my law career, moving to a foreign country without much of a plan, etc. — and each involved a lot of self-reflection and critical thinking.
But sometimes it’s the everyday, little decisions that are the most insidious — these are the decisions into which we put little or no thought, that require hardly any self-reflection or self-awareness, but that ultimately, subtly, lead us far down a path that’s not our own and that we have no memory of every choosing.
For me, these were decisions about how to approach my business goals; what clothes I shouldn’t wear and words I shouldn’t say and causes I shouldn’t support publicly; what classes to take and pretend not to hate in law school. These were the little decisions of no real significance — until they became significant. Because little decisions generally compound into giant decisions about things like relationships and career and faith and identity.
I got to a point this year where I felt frozen by my fear of public disapproval. I couldn’t envision how to move forward because my first thought when approaching a decision was about all the different kinds of criticism it would evoke. I wanted to quit altogether because I thought that would be a better option than facing the judgement.
I almost gave up my dreams because I was afraid of the imaginary opinions of people I hardly even knew, or didn’t know at all, or didn’t like at all. What a waste that would have been.
Learning not to care too much about what people think about you is a lifetime lesson, and I’ll never claim I’ve figured it out entirely. But I did face a crossroad this year where I had to really decide whether I would live a life dictated by the opinions of others, or whether I would live the life I deep down wanted. I’m so glad I chose the latter.
how I moved past the fear of disapproval
1) Stop making the thing you’re doing about you. Let go of your own ego and start focusing instead on how you can do this thing you’re doing — your job, your public speaking, your social media, your relationships, your cooking, your anything — as an act of service for someone else.
When you make your actions less about creating some image of yourself and more about service to others or the world around you, there’s much less room for being concerned about people’s opinions of you. In fact, those opinions become irrelevant, because your job or speeches or hospitality aren’t even about you, they’re about your clients, your coworkers, your audience, your guests. And the world would be a better place with less energy spent serving our egos and looking outward.
2) Stop spending time around critical people. If you’re constantly surrounded by people who criticize others for the way they run their businesses or families, the way they dress, or the opinions they share, then it’ll be impossible for you to not suspect your own life choices will elicit similar criticism from others.
But the reality is that most of the world doesn’t care enough about what you do to form a critical opinion about it, and you just happen to spend a lot of time around a minority that cares way too much. And, spoiler alert: those critical people are likely acting from a place of insecurity, putting down others to make themselves feel better.
There’s a good chance you’ll become one of those people the longer you live in that environment. Get out, focus on your own personal goals, replace those negative voices with positive messages (motivational podcasts and books are helpful), and find new friends with deep senses of identity and confidence, who speak encouragement and life into the world and have better things to do than criticize the world around them.
3) Stop criticizing others. Similar to 2), the more you criticize others and focus in on their shortcomings, the more you’ll suspect people are doing the same to you. Challenge yourself to follow every judging, negative thought you have of someone, with a positive thought about that same person. And every time you get caught in a cycle of criticism, repeat this mantra to yourself until you believe it: “You don’t know their story, you don’t have all the answers, and this is not the person you want to be. Let’s move on.”
4) Other people’s opinions are none of your business. I heard this nugget of wisdom from Rachel Hollis who heard it from her therapist. It is not your job to be imagining up the opinions of people who haven’t ever spoken them into reality. And it’s not your job to be manipulating your behavior in order to change their real or imagined opinions.
Your beliefs about the opinions of others are totally imaginary until that person tells it to you him/herself. Until then, let the world around you keep their opinions inside their heads for whatever reason they choose, and move on with your life.
If a person does share his/her negative opinion of you, does he/she knows you well? how well has he/she has approached the conversation? If these critics don’t know you well and are trying to pick fights, then they’re just jerks, and you shouldn’t care what jerks think anyway.
2) taking control of my life narrative
I’ve always thought of myself as a realist, not a pessimist. So, for as long as I can remember, I’ve written a realistic script over my life. I’ve set realistic goals and believed in realistic dreams and had realistically no fun at all with any of that.
In large part, I refused to dream big or set ambitious goals that I couldn’t be sure I’d meet, because I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to write positivity into every detail of my life because I didn’t want to be disappointed if I were wrong.
Recently, however, I’ve realized how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy this is. I didn’t talk about my big crazy dreams, so I never had accountability to work at them. I never set big ambitious goals, so I’d never start planning steps to reach them. I believed life was unwaveringly difficult and cruel, so every setback and disappointment felt oppressive, rather than an opportunity to be creative and learn. I created a reality where I’d never reach my potential.
The reality is, however, that although dreaming small and expecting the worst might lead to less disappointment, it’s certainly going to lead to less success, less joy, and more regret.
But when we proclaim big dreams, set big goals, believe in our own success, and decide that the world isn’t working against us, we become free to live out our truest selves. We start making decisions that aren’t dictated by fear, and we start becoming more resilient, deeply happy people.
We re-write the script of our lives into a new self-fulfilling prophecy. And while there will still be mistakes and disappointments to face, and adjustments to make along the way, we’ll be able to see these as opportunity for growth rather than setbacks.
How I reclaimed the narrative over my life:
1) Put goals into writing, and tell your goals to others. There’s something powerful in physically writing down your goals and verbally proclaiming them to your peers. One result is accountability, because it’s much more difficult to minimize your goals and dreams or pretend they don’t exist when they’re only floating around in your head.
Writing down your goals will also help launch you into an action plan — when you see the words written in front of you, you’ll feel a bit more like you’ve got a hold on this thing, and it’ll be easier to start moving forward. Writing these goals down is a way of putting them into reality, which will give you the momentum to manifest them further.
2) Identify how the trials and setbacks in the past were growth opportunities. The breakup? Losing your job? The diagnosis? The conflict with a friend? How did you respond that allowed you to learn some important lesson, grow in some area of weakness, or gain some wisdom to share with others in need?
If necessary, create a life timeline and write down these positive outcomes in a bright color. When replaying your life story in your head or to others, don’t allow yourself to pass over the positives.
3) Fill your brain with positive messages and practical tips. As you try to silence the negative voice in your head, it can be helpful to replace it (or overpower it) with positive and proactive input. Some books I suggest are Girl, Wash Your Face, The Power of Habit, and 7 Habit of Highly Effective People which are sure to make you feel hopeful, empowered, and equipped as you re-write your story moving forward.
3) Withholding Forgiveness
Forgiveness is at the center of my Christian faith: God forgives me for all my junk, so I should be quick to forgive. But man — I can be total garbage at living that out.
As a Type 1 on the Enneagram chart, and as a lawyer, a sense of justice is engrained in me. Which isn’t a bad thing, generally. But it’s a crippling thing when faced with a world and people that don’t always function justly, conflicts that don’t always end in closure, and our own natural human tendency to downplay (“understand”) our own shortcomings while assuming the worst in the shortcomings of others.
In the last several years I’ve felt deeply wounded and wronged by friends, partners, church, and a community that I trusted. Forgiveness for one person in one conflict seemed doable, but this amount of forgiveness felt overwhelming. But I saw the anger and bitterness and hardness that came from living in that place of unforgiveness, and it was exhausting. I wanted desperately to not be there anymore.
Although time and distance can help heal wounds, I eventually came to realize that this didn’t always lead to genuine forgiveness. For me, the most effective way to fight against this bitterness was to step back into those messy and broken relationships and pursue actual reconciliation — i.e., replacing negative thoughts and memories with positive ones.
For me, reengaging and demonstrating kindness and approachability sometimes led to apologies. Other times an apology never came, but I stopped needing it. Usually I came out on the other side with new friendships, and more peace and joy than I could ever have predicted. The wound didn’t just close up with a messy scar, but rather it was fully healed.
There were some relationships that would never be healthy to reenter, and that lack of closure and reconciliation was probably the most difficult to navigate. A process of reshaping the narrative of what happened, and showing kindness to that person in my own mind, helped me get to a place where I am no longer weighed down and emotionally charged by anger when I think of that person and our past conflict.
What helped me extend forgiveness:
1) Remember what you once liked about that person. He/she might have been a bad romantic partner, or a bad friend, or a bad father/pastor/[fill in the blank], but that doesn’t necessarily need to taint every positive aspect of /her personality or character.
Was he/she funny? A great public speaker? Smart? Kind to animals? Devoted to family? Inspiringly creative? Even if he/she sucked in relationship with you, those other qualities don’t cease to exist, and don’t cease to be good. Focus on those good qualities, and you might find yourself regaining a softness and respect for the person despite his/her faults.
2) Remind yourself of all the good that came from those conflicts. It may be true that what was done against you wasn’t good or right, but my guess is you can identify at least one way in which you grew from the incident and came out stronger and better. Would you really want to exist today without ever having learned those lessons or grown in those ways? If the answer is no, then choose to focus on the growth, be thankful that it happened, admit you wouldn’t have wanted to not grow in that way, and move on.
3) Engage with them. So many conflicts could be resolved easily if we just expressed how we were hurt. There is often so much misunderstanding between two well-intentioned people in conflict — misunderstandings about motivations, perceptions, past conflicts that have triggered or exaggerated present conflicts, etc.
We often don’t want to address our hurts because the confrontation seems too painful or exhausting, or because we predict negative outcomes based on past (unrelated) experiences — but if the alternative is carrying around anger for years to come, then I promise you, engaging in a conversation is a much less painful option.
If you’re not willing to have a conversation, then try engaging with the person in other ways. Say “hi” and ask how she is doing when you see her at church, a party, or in the neighborhood. Don’t avoid gatherings just because she will be there — go anyway and be the one to initiate friendly conversations.
Often we hold negative emotional associations with certain people that build and build in our imaginations for months or even years, until we’re solidly furious but it’s not entirely clear why. By slowly replacing those negative associations with positive emotions, memories, and narratives, thinking of this person will be less likely to trigger anger.
Let’s Go, 2019.
Whether you made resolutions this New Year or not, or whether you’ve already failed to go to the gym seven days in a row, there is nothing stopping you from making meaningful change in your life today moving forward. But if you want these changes to last, don’t fail to consider what underlying, fundamental mindset changes need to be made for you to live out your best self in the upcoming year.
Take the time to consider what held you back in 2018 and the years prior, and jot down practical ideas for you to overcome them. Ask friends for advice about what worked for them. Read books and listen to podcasts to get ideas from those with more experience or training on the matter.
Don’t let the same things hold you back this new year and prevent you from living out your truest, best, and freest self.
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What are some of the things that held you back in 2018, and what are some ways you worked through them?