Those words were spoken to me by a wise woman at a critical decision point in my life.
“Choose yourself,” she said.
I heard those two words and burst into tears because I knew that I hadn’t been doing that for quite a while. Instead, I had been doing what I thought I should for years. I stayed in a job and a marriage that were both “okay” but not what either should have been because they were “okay.”
It wasn’t until I heard those words that I felt myself crack open to the truth:
That I wasn’t living a life that mattered to me—not in the way that each of our lives should matter to us.
If I was going to do the things that were important to me, if I was going to be the person that I needed to be in this world then I was going to have to push against complacency and choose myself. I was going to have to move out of my comfort zone and figure out what choosing myself looked like and then start doing it.
What surprised me most was that it wasn’t the terrifying challenge I thought it was going to be. Sure I was scared but there was an experience of liberation as well. I found that I did know what choosing myself meant. I found that I did know what I wanted to do. Or at least I knew well enough to make a start and from there I was able to figure out the next steps. I found out that I didn’t need to have all the answers as much as I needed to be willing to ask questions and entertain possibilities.
The first and biggest challenge was to look at my marriage and realize that if I was truly going to choose myself I needed to leave. I’d tried for years to make an “okay” marriage better but I hadn’t succeeded, and spending the rest of my life being “okay” was no longer good enough. Making that decision, choosing myself in that very powerful way opened the flood gates and I began holding all my important decisions up to that bar. Was I choosing myself or was I just doing what I’d always done?
What I thought—or feared—would happen if I tried this or that thing mattered less than trying and being willing to find out. My next significant choice was to move to a new state where I knew no one and, for one year, commit to saying “yes” to every invitation that came my way. I made exceptions for skydiving and bungee jumping but everything else was a yes. I figured if I didn’t try different things I wouldn’t know what I wanted to choose. I couldn’t just do the same life in a different place and think that the results would be different.
I, a true introvert, went to book signings, art openings and jazz clubs. I ran a political campaign and went to a drag show, joined Toastmasters, went on pub crawls and to meetings of entrepreneurs. For that year I needed to say yes so that I could intentionally choose what to say no to.
So one day, one decision at a time, I began to choose myself.
Choosing myself is a selfish act in the same way that putting on our oxygen masks first on an airplane is a selfish act. Selfish and necessary because there is no truly helping another if we haven’t taken care of our own needs.
Choosing myself doesn’t make life’s challenges disappear—it makes engaging with life’s challenges worthwhile. Choosing myself requires me to listen to my inner wisdom. I experience a little hitch when I’m making a decision that isn’t choosing myself. It feels like a tightness in my stomach. We all have something like that, an internal signal that lets us know we have veered off-course. Identifying and paying attention to your version of that signal will help you get and stay on your path.
When we don’t connect to and then live out our vision for our life we don’t make the contribution we would otherwise be capable of making. Not only do we fail to contribute what we could, we also live with a subtle but important level of frustration. Frustration is a normal part of life, but I need to live a life that feels fulfilling far more often than it feel frustrating. So do you.
How to begin to choose yourself?
First, slow down and give yourself time to really feel what’s going on inside. One of the ways I avoided doing this for years was to keep myself so busy that I didn’t have to feel the pain of not choosing myself. So start by giving yourself the gift of time to feel what you are feeling and to hear what your soul is calling you to do.
Next take a small step in the direction of choosing yourself. Then take another and another. Keep going until choosing yourself becomes as much of a habit as not choosing yourself used to be.
Author: Omkari Williams
Image: Elephant Journal Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen