Sarah Knight - You Do You

Life is full of arbitrary rules and social norms that you don’t need to follow. With the exception of laws and formal codes of conduct, most of these are unwritten and enforced by social pressure. Despite the pressure we may feel to conform to these expectations, we’re better off when we ignore them. When we embrace who we really are, however “weird” we may appear to others, we free ourselves to follow our own dreams and goals. And that’s ultimately what puts us on the path to happiness.

Living by other people’s rules risks leading you away from this intuitive understanding of what you need to do. Instead of living in ways that fulfill you, you may get pressured into Lowest Common Denominator Living. You’ll stifle traits and tics that don’t fit other people’s definition of normality, and consequently end up miserable.

Learn to see social expectations for what they are and take some of the pressure off yourself by refusing to follow senseless rules.

The best place to start doing this is to embrace a model called Mental Redecorating, an approach to reappraising your supposed “flaws.”

This is about recoding qualities that society regards as negative. “Nerdy,” for instance, is often used to put people down. Mental redecorating, by contrast, would redescribe this character trait in positive terms like “smart” or “knowledgable.” The same goes for a word like “weird,” which is just another way of saying “unique.”

Despite what society tells you to do, you don’t always have to give your best, be a team player, or put others first

If a rule hurts you more than it helps others, you should probably question it.

Let’s start with the notion that you should always do your best. Constantly giving it your all is exhausting, and that can take a toll on your health. Endlessly striving for perfection is also a surefire recipe for disappointment. Think of it this way: if you have the perfect Uber rating, the only way it can change is by getting worse! This suggests your best bet is to cut yourself some slack and accept that you can’t be perfect all the time.

Then there’s the idea that you should “take one for the team.” Put bluntly, this just isn’t true – it’s perfectly legitimate to put your own interests first. This isn’t about selfishness, though. Only caring about yourself and ignoring others is definitely something to be avoided. No, what we’re talking about here is being self-ish. A self-ish person cares about others, but he also takes care of his own needs before looking out for others. This is because he understands you can only help those around you if you are okay.

Finally, it’s important to stress that some people are team players by nature while others just aren’t, and that’s okay. If playing for a team isn’t your thing, don’t feel bad about it.

Taking risks and being vocal about what you want

Standing your ground can be tricky, not least because you’ll often be told that you’re “being difficult.” Put like that, it sounds like you’re being childish and petulant, and that’s why it’s often phrased that way – it’s a great method of stopping you from sticking up for yourself.

Standing up for yourself is also important when it comes to making important life decisions. This is because other people’s opinions may be the only thing holding you back from pursuing your dreams.

You’re free to define success however you like and you can take any route to achieve it.

But doing something because others want you to do it just doesn’t make sense. They don’t have to live with the consequences, after all – only you do. This is a great mantra to keep in mind when people start bugging you to adopt certain lifestyles or make certain decisions. Want to become a vegetarian? Go for it! Kids not your cup of tea? Don’t have any! If you’re not forcing people to live like you do, they shouldn’t be trying to foist their ideas on you.

It’s not just how you travel – your lifestyle – that’s up to you, though. You also get to plug your preferred destination into the GPS, set your own goals, and define what success means to you personally. This clashes with conventional wisdom. All too often we’re told that success is all about going to college and getting a “good job.” But you’ll only feel successful if you’re meeting your own goals. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some people equate doing well in life with a high salary, others think it’s about starting a family, and others value flexibility first and foremost. What your goal looks like will often determine the route you travel, and this is why different people end up following different paths.

Being pessimistic and “weird” has lots of perks.

There are no two ways about it: contemporary Western society is pretty down on pessimism. If you want to get anywhere in life, we’re told, you have to be upbeat and optimistic. That’s fine if you happen to have a sunny disposition, of course, but some people are natural-born pessimists.

Contrary to received wisdom, this isn’t a curse. In fact, it’s not even a problem. Negativity can spur us on. Pessimists are also extremely useful to have around when things go south. Why’s that? Well, because they’re trained to anticipate things going wrong, they usually have a plan for when things do go wrong. Put simply, a pessimist will likely have a back-up plan if it rains on her wedding day. An optimist, on the other hand, more likely won’t. For similar reasons, pessimists usually start projects early. As a result of anticipating the worst, they often end up finishing punctually or even ahead of schedule.

This just goes to show that you don’t need to repress your inner negativity. There’s also no need to repress your “weirdness” in general. If you’re perceived as weird, it’s likely just because you do things your own way and aren’t governed by social norms.

Accepting yourself as you are means ignoring what others think about you.

This means you can ignore all sorts of arbitrary social rules. Take being nice. Sure, you shouldn’t be a jerk to the folks you come across on an average day, but you’re not obligated to be nice to them either – politeness is more than enough. It’s also time to start ignoring the folks who make you feel bad because you’re good at something. Self-esteem and confidence in your own abilities isn’t anything to be ashamed of – in fact, it should be a source of pride!

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