I grew up in a very rural, very traditional community of about 250 people. I never did anything without first thinking, “How’s this gonna look?” or “What will the neighbors think?” It was just the way I was raised, with the knowledge that people were always watching, always remembering who you were, what you did, and what you had done. Small towns are just like that.
Think about how that warps your concept of success and failure…
When I got married, I eloped without telling anyone because I didn’t want to listen to the tongue clucking about how he was too old for me, or that I hadn’t known him long enough, and Who are his people? and He already has a child!
In the minds of my family and neighbors, there was no justifying it. It was outside the common pattern, and therefore fair game to be remarked upon, dissected.
Then there was my family…
I come from a family where criticism is an expression of love. We don’t mean to be critical. We just want to make sure you’ve covered all your bases so you don’t get hurt. And so all my life, there has been a constant, pervasive pressure to never, ever make a move without running your plan through committee to make sure that you’re not doing something too foolhardy (or worse, damaging to your reputation).
I laugh at people who are disturbed by what one can Google about you: Take any of my neighbors to coffee and you can have my whole life’s story in the space of an afternoon, embarrassing bits and all. It’s not that my family is inherently anti-innovation, it’s just that missing your guess (as any innovation is bound to do about 90% of the time) leaves you open to judgement and ridicule, and in my community, of course, a respectable woman is never talked about.
Which leads me to the problem…
The assumption that you’re bound to screw up unless you go over little detail, tweak it for PR value, and do in-depth analysis is stifling and inordinately anxiety-provoking. Anytime I wanted to do something outside the norm, I felt like a Hollywood publicist. I had to find a way to make the idea interesting without being shocking, and if I couldn’t avoid shocking, well, I had to milk it for all it was worth.
It was stressful and exhausting. Not because of the plan I was embarking on. But because I cannot justify every single decision.
I work by my intuition. And when you poke at intuition too much, it just evaporates. It fades away like a ghost, and all you’re left with is an awkward silence. I can’t control every reaction to my decisions, and I can’t spare the time to manage those reactions. It’s not like I can call a press conference in order to handle all the questions at once. And yet, because of the culture I was from, I felt like that was the only way to manage people’s opinions of me and my place in the community.
The Breaking Point
This summer, I left my husband. I could already hear the chorus of responses, from the smug “I told you so” to the nosy “What happened? Aren’t you going to even try to work it out? What about your kid?” And my favorite, “What do your parents think?”
I knew there would be constant phone calls offering support in exchange for gossip-worthy news. I knew there would be concerned conference calls between relatives deciding whether or not to intervene. I knew that even when people were too polite to bring it up, it would be hinted at from the sides in case I wanted to unburden myself.
And for my part, I had done all my talking. I had done all my reasoning, all my weighing of options. I was simply done, done, done, and over even thinking about it, thank you.
But that’s not how my family works. You must explain your reasoning. You must share. We’re a family, dammit! The drama of my breakup was nothing compared to the drama that was coming when my family got wind of things. I could practically hear my mother wail, “What am I supposed to tell people?”
So I took the easy way out. I took up a friend’s offer of a roof 4,000 miles and one international border away. My family thinks the sky has fallen. I feel amazing. I feel free.
Now that I don’t feel compelled to share everything with my family, to seek advice and counsel at every turn, now that I’m not unconsciously trying to prove to them I know what I’m doing, I’m just being.
I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not that I ever felt like I was limiting myself by considering what other people thought. But now that I don’t have to justify anything, decisions are so fast. They’re so easy. Instead of a million and one things to consider, I now have only a handful. It’s so relaxing.
So from now on, I am not justifying myself, I am not explaining myself, and in fact, I’m not going to discuss my plans in any way beyond my plans for the weekend.
I’ve had enough of “keeping people updated.”
I’ve had enough of “examining my options.”
And I’m definitely done with any effort on my part to convince other people that I know what I’m doing.
Who cares if I know what I’m doing? I decided to do it, and that’s all I need. And that’s all you need to know.
Shanna Mann writes about realizing a world that you design and implement (1 part thought-experiment and 2 parts strategy).
Her expertise lies in coaching people who are driven to find out what they’re made of. These are the people who throw themselves into monumental challenges, who are focused and intense, but are frighteningly aware they might be fooling themselves. By reflecting their processes and motivations back at them, she helps clients achieve greater clarity and awareness of who they are and what they’re capable of. She recently launched an ebook, Crash Course on Meditation, with 50% of the proceeds going to Kiva. (How cool is that?)
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