Imagine going through life, and each time someone tells you what your strengths are, or what organization you would benefit from or what career they could see you in, paint is brushed on your skin.
“You’re great at helping others, you should volunteer here.” “I’ve recommended you take this math course to enhance your problem-solving skills.” “Oh my gosh, I can totally see you being a teacher!” “Why would you get an engineering degree but then go into acting?”
Each time a statement such as these is said, a portion of your skin is painted. Then as life goes on and you get older, and more people tell you, you would be good in this field over another, or that they would love to see you here, or that it would fit you better if you did this, coats of paint caress one’s skin until not an inch of their skin is left visible.
But if you’ve ever gotten paint on your skin before, after some time it dries and hardens, making one feel uncomfortable, itchy, trapped. The need to scrub it off dominates one’s thoughts. So, imagine coats of paint being molded around you by people’s comments, to the point where you don’t know what is best for you. You just know what would make others happy.
Personally, I’ve always sought the approval of others. This may come from being a dancer, and never being good enough, always needing to give 110%, giving it all and making sure my coach sees me nail that trick in practice to prove that I can do it in the routine.
Even now, being 20 years old in college, I catch myself relying on my friends to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing or asking my editor 100 times if what I’m writing is good. It’s only recently that I’ve been branching out and finding confidence to see where my strengths and weaknesses take me.
My point to all of this is to live a life worth living, to live a life where you are proud of yourself, rather than living off of the pride others have for you, to live a life that brings you joy, that brings a smile to your face when you are drinking your morning coffee getting ready for the day. You need to break the mold.
To do this, you need to take a step back in life. You need to look at yourself from a third person perspective and ask yourself “does this make me happy?” and “is the stress that this occupation brings stress that I wouldn’t mind because it brings me joy, or stress that makes me unhappy and feel overwhelmed?”
[Related: COLUMN: Glory Days]
If you’re unsure about where you are in life, make a pros and cons list and stay up until 2 a.m. journaling until you feel like you found the solution. And you may wonder “but how will I know I figured out?” You will just know. Ask the people in your life to listen to your concerns and ask them “do I seem content to you?” or “do you think I would be happier doing this instead?”
At the end of the day, it is not your responsibility to fill that position — it’s to live. So, if it takes resigning from a job, switching occupations, taking a gap year, moving, then do it.
It’s when you feel scared to jump when you will fly, when the coats of paint begin to chip off, and the person who you were meant to be, who makes you smile when you look in the mirror starts to shine through.
People will say “you’re young, you have your whole life,” but the reality is we don’t know what our lifespan will be. And exactly, we are young, so use that to your advantage.
Accept that new opportunity, or say goodbye to the old one, say no to that, but yes to this, and start to peel off the paint that people and society have painted on you.
Natalie Fitzgibbons (she/her) is a junior studying journalism with a minor in American Studies. She hopes to inspire people with her words and make a positive impact in people’s lives and the world.