“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E.Cummings
Have you ever had a clear sign of who you really are and then totally ignored it?
Maybe it required too much change or taking a big risk. Maybe you were scared to have to convince a loved one how much you needed this. And so you rationalized that “it wasn’t the right time.” Convinced yourself to “be sensible and put it off for a while.” I know how this feels, because I did it too.
I was twenty-one then, and in my third year of medical school. We were in one of our first psychiatry classes, and the professor was demonstrating to us a patient with conversion disorder.
I was hooked. In no other class had I been so completely absorbed. I fell in love with a big thud, reading everything I could on neuroscience and the brain.
Although exhilarating, in my mind, this was also a disaster.
You see, my dad was (and still is) a prominent eye surgeon who owned several hospitals and had been waiting to hand over his empire to me. My falling in love with psychiatry wasn’t part of this plan.
I was raised in a culture where kids obeyed their parents. No questions asked. Even more so if you are the first born; added points if you were female. Unluckily, I was both. And so I ignored the sign and buried my desires.
Then, tragedy hit and my mother unexpectedly died. And just like that, life was turned topsy turvy.
That’s when I realized that planning to fulfill obligations first and then chase dreams is an illusion. Even the heady immortality of youth is sobered by meeting death up close. I developed this urgent, almost desperate need to be fully alive and true to myself in the time I had left on this earth.
It has been more than ten years now since I took the plunge. I have become a board certified psychiatrist in the U.S, my siblings have grown and my dad and I have made up.
But I would not have changed this journey, difficult as it was in some ways, even if I had the chance. Because it taught me, through trial and lots of errors, how to become real.
Everyone’s journey is unique. And so this is in no way a generic prescription. These things happened to work for me and I share them with the hope that some may help you in your travels as well.
1. Cherish those special friendships.
I had (and still have) friends who knew and loved me unconditionally. This is truly invaluable. Make and keep good friends and be honest with them. They can be your moral compass during stormy times. Not just psychologically, but literally, like in share-her-last-sandwich-while-reading-poetry-on-long-afternoons kind of support.
2. Don’t hate those who stumble; we all do sometimes.
It would have been so easy, and actually it was, to hate my dad for a while. But as time passed, I was able to see his side too. This guy was so poor while growing up that he had only one meal a day and wore torn rags to school.
He had to sneak to elementary classes from his day job herding sheep. From there, he had risen to be one of the top surgeons in the country and built an empire. Me rejecting it felt personal, like I was rejecting him.
We all make mistakes. It’s part of being human. If you can, forgive and allow compassion into your relationships. It makes the ride more beautiful.
3. Take responsibility for your own life.
This is the beginning of self-esteem. Although stuff happens, ultimately you are responsible for your actions.
When we deeply and utterly understand that to be true, life takes on a whole new meaning. Whatever has happened until the past moment is gone. This present moment is again yours. And you have the power to do whatever you want with it.
4. Have a big vision and keep your goals aligned with your vision.
I struggled with this one for a while. First, I had no big vision. In fact, I didn’t even know what that meant. So my goals and actions went in circles for a while.
Make sure to know what kind of person you want to be and what kind of job/life you would like to lead. Then shape your short-term goals so it is moving you in that direction (or at least not away from it).
5. Remember that death makes life real.
In the words of Steve Jobs, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Death can come at any moment, to any of us. We don’t have forever to be who we are. In fact, we owe it to ourselves and those we love to be truly alive and authentic in each moment. It is the only legacy we can be proud to leave behind.
6. Don’t worry too much about making mistakes.
It is better to have tried and failed than to not have tried at all. Think and analyze your decisions carefully, but once you feel reasonably sure you have made a good choice, just trust yourself. Be bold and go forth into the wilderness.
Whatever happens, you will have gained an experience from it that only the courageous can boast of.
7. Know your strengths.
You are unique. There is only one you in this entire universe. No one has exactly your strange and magical mix of genes and experience. Learn what makes you tick. And keep building on that. You will make wonderful things happen.
8. Be kind to yourself.
We all mess up once in a while. When it happens and you finally catch on, drop your ego, admit your mistake fully, and make amends. Learn from it so you don’t repeat that same lesson again. Then forgive yourself and move on. Life is hard and we are not made to be perfect.
9. Be in the moment.
This present moment is alive and full of potential. Learning to be mindful has helped me tremendously by keeping me in my life, as it happens.
Whether you are playing, sleeping, working, lazing, watching TV, or hanging out with someone you love, give your awareness to it 100%. I highly recommend a daily mindfulness practice. It has changed the way I relate to life.
10. Don’t forget to laugh.
It has gotten me through many a sticky situation. And created hours of pure fun. Include as much good humor in your day as legally possible. And that’s a doctor’s order. 🙂
So dear readers and future friends, don’t wait to be who you are. You are special and there is a reason you are on this earth. No matter what your situation is, there is something you can do today to move toward your true self.
Dare to live; your dreams are counting on you.
Photo by Mourner