Reflections at 40 – Permission – 17/40

To celebrate turning 40, I’ve challenged myself to blog for each of the 40 days leading into my birthday. This is post number 17. You can read all the posts here.

I’m part of a few groups on Facebook that are made up of highly intelligent, overly capable people. When someone in one of these groups is seeking advice, their post usually takes this format:

  • “This is the problem I have”, followed by …
  • “This is what I think the solution is”, followed by …
  • “What does everyone think?”

Generally speaking, ‘everyone’ thinks, “Well, yes, your solution is sound. Go forth and execute it.”

Why is it that we need to get permission to do the things we know we need to do?

  • Is it because actioning those things usually involves disappointing someone?
  • Is it so, if things go pear-shaped, we’ve got someone else to blame besides ourselves?
  • Is it because it’s easier to say, “Someone else advised me to do this”, than it is to say, “I decided this is the best thing for me”?

Most likely, it’s a mixture of the above. There’s also the fact we’ve all grown up needing to seek permission from someone higher up the chain, (parents, teachers, employers) before making any kind of major decision.

This is why it took me so long to shake the story that for people like me (Type-A, achievement junkies), life was always going to involve extreme overwhelm.

I loathed the overwhelm and constant rushing in my life.

I hated the person I was when mired in stress and anxiety.

I knew what I had to do to remove these things from my life, (stop trying to be everything to everyone).

But I just couldn’t give myself permission to do it.

This is where therapists come in handy. Anyone who’s been to a psychologist or counsellor knows they’re not there to tell you what to do. They’re there to help you devise management strategies for the challenges in your life. And they empower you (give you permission), to us those strategies.

At some stage, however, you need to start taking responsibility for yourself.

I started small.

I gave myself permission to order my lunch in an imperfect and imprecise fashion at the café. I told myself it was ok if the waitress did not think to herself, “Wow, this chick knows exactly how to make a waitress’s life easier. How thoughtful of her.”

(I know. I know!)

I then gave myself permission to stop trying to read people’s minds.

If I didn’t understand something, I said, “I’m not sure what you mean,” instead of nodding wisely, trying to say something insightful, and then spending three days overthinking whether the expression on their face meant I was waaaaaaaay off the mark.

Finally, I gave myself permission to let people down.

For years I had this conversation with Ant on a weekly basis:

“But, if I can’t do this thing for them, who will?”

“Kel, that’s not your problem.”

“But …”

“Not. Your. Problem.”

2012 was a banner year for me. Someone people spend a whole year saying ‘Yes’, to see where it takes them.

I spent that whole year saying ‘No’.

It’s the year I finally realised that when you say ‘No’ to the stuff that’s just not important, you’re saying ‘Yes’ to the stuff that is.


Image credit: James Douglas