Under the Skin: The fine line between Permission and Persona
I don’t make decisions.
I mean… I technically do. But not before I ask for the input of at least 6 of my closest friends, 2 strangers in my Instagram direct messages, and my mother. I’m kidding myself if I believe that the decisions that I come to after sourcing these perspectives aren’t all but completely formed through the lived experiences of other people.
I struggle to pinpoint when this started, but I know it must have been somewhere in the comfort of home. Growing up, it was always clear that my mother knows best. From who my true friends were, to school project ideas, to the outfits I wore, I can’t remember a suggestion my mom has ever made that has steered me wrong. She continues to blow me away with the accuracy of her intuition. I admire her ability to know what’s up. When you see someone doing things in ways that work for them, it makes sense to do your research to try to better understand how they come to the decisions that they do. I’m deeply inspired by my mom, my friends, and some select strangers on Instagram (yes, I really did DM health/yoga/creative guru Hannah McNeely to ask for advice this one time)… but lately I’ve been realizing that asking for their opinions on my life choices is sending me way off-course from where I want to be.
There is validity in asking for guidance from our nearest and dearest, but at what point does the phrase you are the sum of the five people closest to you become literal? At what point do our questions, confirmations and external validations erase whatever specks of self-assuredness we may have had in the first place? Leaving behind a shadow of who we could be if we just believed in ourselves for once, without asking mom if she thinks it’s a good idea.
What probably matters more than knowing when this assurance-seeking habit started is understanding why I allow it to endure. My theory nods to a denial of fleeting youth and looming adulthood, combined with the fear of my (in)ability to handle it when shit goes wrong: I don’t want to take responsibility for my life. I want to avoid this responsibility so desperately that I am willing to give it away, without charge, to friends and family and social-media strangers. I send it off without a goodbye kiss and know that if shit hits the fan, I’ll be able to point the finger at someone who isn’t fragile little me. “It’s not my fault,” was my younger-self’s favourite line, and it doesn’t seem much has changed. Same bangs, same catch-phrase.
Responsibility. Say it out loud and you’ll notice how heavy it sounds. As the word leaves your lips you can feel a weighted presence lower itself onto your shoulders. Images of cleaning the fish tank and going to bed early swim through your mind. There is a special kind of anxiety that comes with knowing that if the fish dies, it’s on you. If your fatigue leads to an error at the office that sets the company back, it’s on you. That’s h e a v y.
But life is duality, right? If I’m to blame when my bank account is sitting at an all-time low, then I’m applauded when it sees more zeroes than it ever has before. If I’m kicking myself for wearing heels that are too high, I’m praising for bringing flats in my bag. Responsibility for self aligns with respect for self, and I’m not sure you can have the latter without the former.
I ask others to advise me so that I may be less likely to make a mess of my life. If a mess is made, I can turn to a different crowd of people for direction on how to clean up. While this hands-off approach is mildly effective for removing myself from Responsibility’s Heavy Anxiety, it also removes me from being fully present and awake in my experiences. From owning them.
I wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t heeded my mom’s advice about colouring my hair in elementary school. Or if I wore the silk wide-legged pants that I found at Chosen Vintage to my final-year formal, instead of the dress my friends liked more. It probably wouldn’t be that different. Maybe my hair would have been fried by eighth grade. Maybe I would have felt uncomfortable in the pants and they would have gotten stuck in my bike’s chain on the way to dinner. But maybe I’d have felt a little bit more honest; more willing to acknowledge my mistakes and learn from them, because they would have been mine without anybody else’s influence.
These days, every day feels chaotic. In between jobs, apartments and seasons, the state of flux that I often feel as summer turns to fall is seeping into every detail of my life. I’ve been asking for direction from the people around me, even more-so than usual, because I don’t want to acknowledge that I am completely lost. I fear the surrender that comes from admitting that I don’t know what I’m doing. There is too much responsibility in that; responsibility for my happiness, my fulfillment, my future, my peace…because I haven’t wanted to hold something so powerful, I’ve been giving it away. Upon reflection, however, I realize that giving away my power is far more terrifying than stepping into it. It’s time to grow up. To recognize the value in taking responsibility for my life and practicing self-respect.
I know I’ll continue to source my friend’s opinions. And I will continue to confide in my mom. I’ll probably reach out to some Instagram-creative who lives in Auckland sometime soon, too. But going forward, I hope I can practicing honouring others instead of obeying them. The messes and masterpieces that stem from my decisions will be my own to kick myself for or applaud myself over. There will be frustration and tears and there will be immense joy. And it will be mine.