I unapologetically and literally love Hebrew culture. Since I strive to be the non-white evangelical version of a Bible follower (some of y'all will catch that later) and Christ was King of the Jews (a king whose family fled to Egypt at one point in his journey; I'll leave that right there—Matthew 2:13-23 and 27:11), that's a huge part of the reason why. Anyway, because of that, I have quite a bit of Hebrew art in my home. One is a picture of a baby, in the womb, with Scripture in Hebrew surrounding them. When I asked the Jewish artist what it meant before I purchased it, she said that, according to Jewish culture, it is believed that a child is perfect while inside of their mother; this includes them having all that they need to know about the Torah (which is basically the first five books of the Bible). Once the child is born, it is simply their parents' responsibility to remind them of what they are already aware of. I adore that. A child is just how they should be on the day of their birth. Parents are simply supposed to make sure they thrive with what is already within them.
Lawd. If only more parents looked at raising their children that way, right? I've shared the quote "adulthood is about surviving childhood", numerous times on this platform because, it's right. Between a lot of us having narcissistic parents or parents we had to raise, our boundaries being disrespected or even violated at a young age and then encountering people along the way who try and turn us into anything and everything but a dope ORIGINAL individual—it can be a daily struggle to avoid being what others expect/want/sometimes even demand, so that we can simply be freely—whew—ourselves.
If hearing all of that hit you somewhere in the pit of your stomach, let me first offer up a Scripture that I hold dear within this particular lane—"He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works." (Psalm 33:15—NKJV) Then, I'd like to share some things that I've done to make sure to unlearn how to stop being preoccupied with, on any level, what people expect me to be—so that I can be who I was meant to be.
Cue Diana Ross’s “Mahogany” Song, Please.
I don't know when it started that, whenever I think about this kind of topic, I hear Diana Ross singing my ear, "Do you know, where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to? Do you know?" That's the hook from the theme song from the classic film Mahogany starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. The reality is that, when it comes to discovering and then settling into the reality of who we really and truly are, it's important to ask yourself the same types of questions that Ms. Diana did in that song. See, it's been a little bit of my observation, sprinkled with some personal experience too, that when you don't have some clear desires, plans and goals for your life, it is so much easier for people to try and get you to be or do what they want or they feel is best for you.
Case in point. I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist (the same faith that Megan Good's husband, DeVon Franklin and, according to her Twitter bio, TLC's Chili is too). Right around my mid-20s, I decided that I didn't want to be a part of a religious denomination so much as I wanted to gain as much biblical knowledge as possible. There are a whole lot of Adventists who tend to think they've got all of the information that anyone needs to know (a lot of denominations and even religions think that way). And you know what? If I had listened to family members, church folks, etc., I wouldn't have come into so much of the knowledge that I have now; stuff many of them have never even considered because they believe they've got all of "the truth". Because I had a particular goal (to get as much knowledge as possible), it was easier to tune out the people who were trying to get me to think how they do, simply because that's how they were raised. I can promise you that, on the spiritual tip, my life is so much richer, fuller and even clearer because I stuck to what I knew was best and right—for me.
Someone once said that if you don't know where you're going, any path can get you there. If you know you have a struggle with living the kind of life that others expect of you vs. the life you know that you should be living, take some time out to think about what where you want to be, in virtually every category—six months, one year, three years and five years from now. The sooner you blaze a path, the easier it will be to stay on it. Even if you've gotta be on it alone.
Then Remember What Murch Said in ‘The Best Man’
If you're a fan of the movie, The Best Man, I'm willing to bet you've seen it a couple of dozen times by now. And if that is indeed the case, I'm sure you recall the scene when Murch and Candy exchanged a particular quote by Audre Lorde—"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."
Defining yourself. A part of the reason why I'm all for people writing personal mission statements (annually, if necessary) is because, it's important to have a self-definition; something that you can say is "definite, distinct, or clear" about yourself. Think about it. If someone were to ask you right now to define yourself physically in two sentences, what would you say? How about emotionally? Spiritually? Professionally? Relationally?
One of the reasons why a lot of people fall into the straight-up trap of conforming to others' views and perspectives is because, when you aren't self-defined, it's easy to blend into other people's thoughts and expectations. That's why the people, who are very firm in their identity, oftentimes get the most pushback from others. It can be hard for humanity to embrace those who don't simply agree with something because it's popular or "what everyone else is doing". Yet hear me when I say that when you are the kind of chameleon who becomes whatever you're around, best believe that Audre Lorde's quote will come back to haunt you, one way or another. We're not here to be someone else's fantasy definition. We're here to express the reality of our genuine nature and being. Are you doing that? Are you sure?
Why Do People’s Opinion of You Matter So Much? Really.
Opinions. While most of us know that one definition of the word is "a personal view", another definition that I really want you to sit with is, "a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty". What I really like about that second definition is, it's a reminder that a lot of people who have opinions, whether it's about our personal or professional life, oftentimes, don't even have enough information/data/facts for it to even matter.
I remember when I first decided to go natural and get the tattoo that is on the inside of one of my forearms. While I was out discussing my plans with a few other people, one of them (who I'm cool with but am not close to) went on and on about how both decisions would affect me professionally (it was a Black woman, by the way). When I asked them why they thought that, they went on to talk about how corporate America struggles enough with "alternative looks", so why would I make things harder on myself? When I shared with them that I haven't stepped foot into an office since 2000 and didn't plan on doing it ever again, they shrugged their shoulders and nursed their drink. Yeah, you do that.
I also recall when I went into a particular church, right after getting my nose pierced and someone in leadership said that it was unbiblical to have one. "Really?" I said, "Because a lot of brides in the Bible had nose rings." (Rebekah in Genesis 24, for example) And actually, there is a passage in the Bible about God putting a ring in the nose of Jerusalem that inspired this." (Ezekiel 16) They were silent (at least to me) after that. Good.
Listen, only a really arrogant—or super insecure, which is usually one in the same—person would think that they should never care what anyone thinks (check out "Should You Really Not Care About What Other People Think?"). Yet if you constantly battle with people pleasing or having poor boundaries with folks in this particular area, the next time someone offers up an opinion, revisit the definition of the word that I share with you—does that person even have enough information to come at you with what they are going on and on about? Not only that, but is their opinion about to help or harm? Not your ego (because sometimes we need to hear something that will humble us real quick); I mean, the core of your very being. If the answer to either of these questions isn't a beneficial one, I wouldn't care too much about their opinion, if I were you. Their evidence is too limited for it really to matter in the long run.
Can You Filter Perspectives and Advice Properly?
On the heels of what I just said, what about the people whose insights you do care about? How do you handle those? Well, let me start off by saying that I've been very open on this platform about the fact that I'm about an 85 percent recovered control freak. I grew up around way too many of them and so, I've come to realize and accept that, once I put some serious distance between myself and those individuals, I was better able to ease up on those I was trying to control in return. The space has helped me to realize that when you feel like someone is suffocating you via their controlling ways, you oftentimes will turn around and take your frustration out on others by trying to control them too. Being less controlling made me much calmer. Being much calmer has helped me to have healthier filters when it comes to processing perspectives and advice, as well as giving them.
Sometimes, even those who you love and trust are gonna say things that you're not gonna agree with or perhaps even like. That doesn't mean you don't need to take what is said to heart, though. First, ask yourself if this person has a track record of having your best interest at heart. Next, ask yourself if they are intruding into your life or are they welcome in the areas they are speaking on. Third, if something they say triggers you or even flat-out pisses you off, ask yourself if it's about them or is it really about you and your stuff that you need to deal with.
Self-aware individuals know that no one is perfect and we all need accountability. And so, they are open to hearing what can help them to become better people. At the same time, they can tell the difference between hearing something that will improve them vs. what will change them. When hearing from others, make sure you know the difference between listening to what will improve you vs. what will totally change you. The first is helpful. The second? 9.5 times outta 10, it's straight trash. Real talk.
Know Your Purpose. Embrace Who Supports It.
Whew. Please Lord, make sure that this particular point resonates with all who read it. Amen. If there is one thing that I am super passionate about, it's people being extremely intentional about discovering what their purpose is. After all, your purpose is "the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc." and, I don't care what your religion is, if you are a person of faith on any level, it's important to recognize that spiritual warfare is designed to keep you off of your purpose. Because if you're not out here living out the reason for why you exist, what exactly are you doing with your life?
That's why, once you are clear about your purpose on this planet, it's vital that you surround yourself with the people, places, things and ideas that embrace, support, nurture, encourage and value your purpose. On the people tip, these will be individuals who don't try and distract you from fulfilling your purpose. They won't challenge you about manifesting your purpose. And they definitely won't serve as distractors or deterrents when it comes to your purpose.
Some people spend way too much time, effort and energy caring about what people think who aren't allies of their purpose; they are actually enemies. Allies aren't going to stress you out, plant seeds of self-doubt or try and get you to live your life in a way that solely makes sense to them or makes them feel more comfortable. If these are the kinds of individuals you've got in your life, they are toxic—to you and your purpose. It's time to do some serious shifting. Not later—NOW.
Care About What God Thinks. What You Think. AND THEN ONLY OTHERS WHO TRULY MATTER.
Any of us who grew up in the Church, we oftentimes heard that it's important for us to put God and others before ourselves. Personally, I'm a huge fan of how Scripture says to "love your neighbor as yourself", and I honestly don't know how we can do that unless we love our own selves well…first (Mark 12:30-31). Either way, when it comes to breaking the habit of being who others expect you to be, it's definitely important that you put them at the bottom of your priority list when it comes to your self-identity. Care about what you creator thinks (where God is, there is peace; that's a great way to gauge). Then care what you think (being at total peace with yourself is important too). And then, when you are good with those two relationships, you'll be able to better discern who is a good fit for you and your life.
One of the most challenging things in this world is learning how to be your best self and not get caught up in what others expect, simply because they expect it. Oh, but once you master this particular skill, the sky really is the limit on oh so many levels. You won't wait for others affirmation or applause because…you've got your own.
Determine today to be what you were called to be. Not what others expect of you. Then watch, sis. Whew…just you watch!
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