Giving myself permission

When I was writing about adaptation in my last post, I ended with a phrase that bothered me even as I wrote it:

If the world isn’t going to allow me…

Of course the world isn’t going to “allow” me. I need to allow myself. I’ll be waiting a very long time before the world gets around to it. As they say, better to ask forgiveness than permission.

It turns out that giving myself permission is much harder than I thought.

This past week, my friend T came to stay for a night. We were talking about what she’s going to do next now that her youngest has successfully launched into independence. She said that she’d like to travel for a year, and listed off a number of places she’s thinking about. I responded enthusiastically, supporting her idea and encouraging her to be brave and do it. She lit up and got more specific about her plans as we talked, and I have no doubt she’ll be booking it all soon.

Most of us test out our ideas about how we’re going to live on our friends and family in this way. We’re seeking encouragement and support because no matter how brave we are, having the support of others in our madcap adventures feels so much better than going it alone.

If our ideas about how we live conform to social expectations, then we generally get a positive response. I have no desire to embark on the kind of travel adventure that T wants to do, but my reaction was driven not by what I think she “should” do with her life but by the signals I could read in her eyes and body as she put forward her ideas. It was obvious to me that she really wanted to do this, but that she was a bit scared it might be a slightly mad thing to do (her job? income while she’s away? what she’ll come back to? risk? etc.)

T is genuinely passionate about travel, so her plans reflect her desires and interests. Her circle of friends Approves and Endorses such travel, so she’s going to get support when she shares her ideas. Feeling entitled to pursue your dreams is so much easier when your circle supports your interests and passions. It is very difficult to feel that degree of entitlement when what you value and want to pursue are things that your circle thinks are uninteresting, pointless, or which they actively deride.

So there is strong pressure to espouse the values and passions of one’s circle in order to gain support and encouragement. That way lies adaptability. Ideally of course our circle would support and encourage whatever passions and interests we have, but circles are made up of real people not enlightened beings.

Change your circle then! Get new friends who share and support your interests! Just do it anyway – who cares what they think!

People who don’t care what others think are called sociopaths. T and I have been friends for 40 years. I’m not about to ditch her friendship just because she doesn’t understand why the idea of cycling through monsoons in Vietnam holds no appeal for me where visiting a remote monastery in Norway does.

What puzzles me is why this should be. I can understand what she enjoys about her choice of travel, even though I wouldn’t want to do it myself. But it seems to be difficult for her to accept that I enjoy something different and that it’s not because I haven’t tried the alternative. She makes a brave effort, and she doesn’t openly disparage my choices, but she can’t help herself: “you should go to Vietnam…”

So I have given myself permission not to go to Vietnam.