You had thought about it for a long time or it came as a sudden inspiration: things are going to change. You’ll take the leap. You are going to do something different. You are excited, a bit scared, too, but your soul sings at the prospect of feeling alive in a new way.
And then in the midst of this elation, a ton of bricks falls on your head: “What.Will.The.Others.Say?” Fear of other people’s reaction is the Reason Number One why we women don’t go for our wild side, leave the beaten path, go for what we really want and claim our own space instead of being the good girls.
Whether you decide to have a baby or not, to marry, to divorce, to keep/change your job or your religion, to move continents or to shave your head, to buy a house, to sell a house, to raise chickens in your backyard, to learn bellydancing or to fly for a weekend to New York, Paris or Bali, you’ll always have someone who’ll critique you for it, and most likely this someone is amongst your nearest and dearest.
Sadly, oftentimes only the thought of their reaction is enough to nip many of our burgeoning ideas in the bud.
Here are five ways to help you stay true to your vision without alienating your friends and family.
1.) First of all: think your project through before you go public.
Now don’t just think on your own. Get someone on board, preferably someone outside of your system of friends and family – say, a coach :).
You want someone who is neutral, yet on your side, with whom you can go through all the possible pitfalls before they happen. This kind of preparation doesn’t have to be long, but it’s vital to help you gain perspective and to strengthen your stand.
It is also a chance to make you realise where your project might really have flaws. You can even ask this person to play devil’s advocate, so you get a clear perspective.
Because even if you have doubts yourself – once your emotional buttons are pushed, you are unlikely to listen to arguments objectively, actually, you won’t listen at all! Not to your mother who laments about the suitability of a man who is “so different from your dear father” or to your snooty cousin observing with raised eye-brows “You want to quit your job as an insurance agent to elevate penguins in Nova Scotia? How original”!
2.) Realise that it’s not personal, it’s nature.
At least when it comes to your parents. Letting a loved one (a child in particular) throw herself into the dangers of living life to the fullest is one of the most difficult exercises there is. I got my first real lesson when I had to allow my then 17-year-old daughter to go bungee-jumping for a school project…
What makes it even more difficult for them is to accept you changing a situation, which, from their point of view, was perfect, or at least perfectly acceptable. Parents conventionally sigh with relief when their children have “settled”, all the more if that settling corresponds to their own hopes and plans.
When said child changes direction, they resist. It’s natural.
3. Recognise how much it is their story, not yours
For every person who has the courage to step out of their comfort zone, out of the given parameters, out of what it considered their “normality” by their surroundings, there are at least ten persons who have the same wishes and desires, but who don’t go for it.
Now if someone in their nearest circle, someone they know or thought they knew until now starts breaking out, it is confronting, and their reaction might not always be very pretty. As a rule of thumb: the more emotional their response, the more it is about them and not about you.
4. Name the game
Know that the other person(s) will need some time to react and to adjust to your decision. They might go through a whole array of emotions, from anger to disappointment, fear, sadness, envy and frustration, before they start to be ready to accept the new situation. And, humans being humans, they might try to manipulate you in different ways, from emotional blackmailing (“Don’t you even think for one minute what you’re doing to us”) to threats (“You shall see what will come out of this!”) to insults (“You’re nothing but selfish”).
When (not if) this happens, recognise this for what it is: manipulation born out of emotional turmoil. Understanding it doesn’t mean that you have to react to it. Or bear it. Decide when to stop the game, don’t wait for people to “come around” all by themselves. The clearer your position, the easier it will be to everyone around you to work their way through an acceptance of the new situation.
5. Find the common ground
Even if it might not always look like it, there is always a common ground with the people who are close to you:
- remind your family that all they want is your happiness. Then being miserable in a cubicle for the next twenty years can’t really be what they want for you, can it?
- Tell your thrice-divorced BFF that she believed enough in marriage to give it three shots, and that you and your fiancé believe in marriage, too.
- Ask your father what it felt like to be a punk in his youth. Now you want to make your own experiences, and this is why you shaved your head.
Expect waters to be rough for a while. And maybe some of your choices will never be accepted by your loved ones. C’est comme ça, that’s how it is. To paraphrase Tennyson:
‘Tis better to have lived and lost
Than never to have lived at all.
Keep breathing and remember: After the first storm, most people do accommodate to a new situation. Sooner then you might think, your mother will visit you in Nova Scotia and then tell all her friends and especially your snooty cousin what an authentic lifestyle you have, how “ruggedly handsome” your man is, how much she enjoyed the penguins, and how happy she is to see you thriving, compared to all those robots who wilt away in their cubicles!