“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” ~Najwa Zebian
During a personal development course, one of my first assignments was to reach out to three friends and ask them to list my top three qualities. It was to help me see myself the way others saw me.
At the time, my confidence was low and I couldn’t truly see myself. I didn’t remember who I was or what I wanted. The assignment was a way to rebuild my self-esteem and see myself from a broader perspective.
As I vulnerably asked and then received the responses, I immediately felt disappointed. All three lists shared commonalties, specifically around responsibility. The problem was, I didn’t see responsibility as a positive trait. In fact, I didn’t want to be responsible; I wanted to be light, fun, and joyful.
Though I understood that my loved ones shared this trait in a positive light—as in I was trustworthy and caring—intuitively, I knew responsibility was my armor. I used it to protect and control while, deep down, I wanted to be free and true to myself.
I didn’t trust life. I found myself unable to let go out of fear of what may or may not happen to myself and others. I let my imagination run loose in dark places and believed if I thought my way out of every bad scenario or was on guard, I could somehow be prepared to meet the challenges that arose.
I thought that if I oversaw everything, it would get taken care of correctly and then I’d be safe from the pain of life. The pain in life was not only my own, but my family’s, the local community’s, and the world’s. I wanted to plan and plot a way to fix everything so that everything would be perfect.
I saw myself as a doer—a person that takes actions and makes stuff happen. I relied heavily on pushing myself and coming up with solutions and, at times, took pride in my ability to work hard, multi-task, and be clever. With time, however, I felt resentful and exhausted.
Over the years it became too heavy a burden. My shoulders could no longer carry the weight of the world, and I was incapable of juggling so many balls. I had to let go.
There were so many things that were out of my control, including situations that had nothing to do with me, and yet there were so many people I loved and so many dangerous possibilities.
Living in a state of constant responsibility meant I had to be alert; I had to be on guard. I was never present and thus unable to have fun. I didn’t understand how to enjoy life while being responsible. I saw these as competing desires and ended up avoiding joy totally.
I believed I could save joy for a vacation or that wedding coming up next month. I always postponed joy until later so that I could resume being responsible.
However, being a doer and taking responsibility for things that were not in my direct control had consequences. I was unhappy and drained, constantly wondering why I couldn’t just relax and enjoy life.
Even when I went away on a vacation, I was unable to calm my mind and have fun. I told myself once x,y,z was taken care of, then I’d feel calm, but then something new would come up and I’d be thinking about that instead of enjoying my trip.
This left me with a powerful realization: I felt safer feeling anxious and tense than I did feeling happy.
In some twisted way, it served me. At the time, being happy was too vulnerable, while being on guard for the next catastrophe felt safer. This was not how I wanted to continue living life.
I wanted to remove the armor. I wanted to trust and enjoy life, and I wanted to believe that whether or not I was on top of everything, things would work out.
I knew that I could be responsible without carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. That I could be dependable and caring without being stressed or serious. Those were expectations I had falsely placed on myself, and it was up to me to remove them.
Once I realized that solving the world’s problems was harming my health and that I was choosing fear over joy out of a false sense of security, I decided to give myself permission to feel the discomfort and vulnerability of happiness. In doing so I found the courage to let go, trust, play, and love life.
I began setting boundaries with myself. The person that had placed the badge of responsibility on my shoulders was me, and I had chosen to do it out of fear, not love. I had to let go of knowing everything that was going on in other people’s lives and the world and take space from social media, friends, and family to make space for me.
I began to cultivate joy by practicing presence daily and taking the time to do things I enjoyed doing.
I took yoga classes, watched comedy shows, went to the beach, and continued personal development courses.
I learned that although I was great at multi-tasking and pushing through, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to courageously follow my dreams and enjoy my precious life.
That meant that I had to feel the uncertainty, sadness, and danger of life’s circumstances without jumping in to fix anything. I had to take a step back and bring awareness to my thoughts so I wouldn’t unconsciously join the merry-go-round of solving problems.
I was a beginner at all these things, but the more I practiced, the more joy I experienced, and this spread onto others. Surprisingly, friends would tell me how I inspired and helped them—not by solving their problems but by being bold enough to enjoy my life.
If you want to enjoy your life but stress yourself out trying to save everyone from pain, begin to set boundaries with yourself. Stay in your lane and focus on the areas you have direct control over—your attitude, your daily activities, and your perspectives.
Try slowing down, investing time and energy into activities that light you up. You can’t protect anyone from what’s coming in the future, but you can enjoy your present by letting go and opening up to joy.