You Don’t Need Anyone’s Permission to Do What You Want to Do

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” ~Steve Jobs

Two weeks ago, I pulled a muscle in my back. It was really scary in the moment, and initially I thought I was much more badly hurt—though it ended up healing miraculously quickly, after a couple days of intense pain and a couple more of moderate pain.

The morning that it happened, I sobbed on the bed as I laid motionless, telling my husband I couldn’t believe I’d hurt myself and that I maybe had a herniated disk or whatever it is people talk about, and I’d probably need surgery or at the very least, weeks of physical therapy, and how the hell was I supposed to drive to work that day, and then oh my God, the medical bills?!

After a little while, I calmed down after I realized I could move a little, as long as I didn’t move or rotate my spine, and my husband said it sounded like a pulled muscle rather than something skeletal.

After a little while, I drove in to work, in a lot of pain, and apologized to my co-workers in advance about the whining.

That night, sleeping on it made the pain even worse, and the next morning I bemoaned, “I can’t belieeeeeve I’m going to work. I’m in so much pain, how am I supposed to be present with a client? But I have to go.”

Normally, I’d have stayed home without too much of a fuss, but we were flying out to Texas that night to visit my family, and I hated the thought of missing an extra day when I was going on vacation for the next three workdays.

It also meant that I might not get to say goodbye to one of my clients who was discharging, which I felt sad and guilty about.

My husband has learned better than to tell me what to do, so he encouraged me to do what I thought I needed to. What I was subconsciously thinking in that moment was that I wanted him to give me permission to stay home, dammit, so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about it!

I started driving into work and then called one of my colleagues (my Work Wife) and told her what was going on.

She thought of another solution where I may still be able to see the discharging client, and told me in no uncertain terms that I should stay home. I immediately turned around and drove home.

She had given me permission. I was relieved.

When I got home and my husband seemed surprised to see me, I got angry. He went about his regular day (as a teacher, he’s home for the summer) while I fumed on the couch, silent and in pain.

Finally, I broke the silence: “I’m upset because I wanted you to give me permission to stay home, and you didn’t, and then when I came home you looked surprised, which makes me feel like you think I should be at work even though I’m in a lot of pain, and it makes me think you don’t think it’s that painful, and IT IS!”

Of course, he did the patient husband thing where he says no, that’s not what he was thinking, and of course I’m in a lot of pain but he doesn’t want to tell me what to do.

So I continued to sit, slowly cooling down (it so helps me to articulate the story in my head like that) reflecting on this issue of “permission.”

It happened again today on a conference call with a couple peers in my industry, when I told them about a training I thought I needed to do to.

In talking it out with them, it became clear to me that I was just dealing with classic Imposter Syndrome, and was looking at an expensive and unnecessary training to try to alleviate that by making me “more legitimate.”

They gave me permission.

I was able to acknowledge that’s what I had been looking for, even though I hadn’t consciously realized it at first, and we laughed about it on the call.

One of the other women—further along in her business than me, with a booming, successful practice—shared that even with where she is in her business, she still struggles with this stuff, too, and still wants permission until she eventually circles around and realizes that it needs to come from herself.

I never would have thought of permission as something I struggle with, because I don’t hesitate for a moment to give myself permission for dessert or a new shirt or book. But it shows up in other ways—subtly, quietly, and then all the sudden I look up and it’s waving its arms going, “You’d better pay attention to me!”

The biggest is the permission to let myself slow down. To not be “productive” all the time. (And, news flash, this actually ends up working against me, because it turns out when you try to work on fifteen things at once, not much gets done!)

I am grateful for the people in my life who have given me permission when I was not in a place to give it to myself, and to other people who remind me that giving it to myself is possible, too.

If you’re like me, sometimes you need life to put an issue right smack in the middle of your path a few times before you really take notice.

The signs I got, courtesy of my injury and obsessing over feeling “legitimate,” helped me to see that I was struggling with an issue I didn’t even think I struggled with!

So if anything in my story resonated with you, consider this your sign: Whatever that thing is that you feel pulled to do, try, quit, or let go of, you don’t have to wait for permission from someone else.

About Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a therapist, coach, writer, and singer who blogs about the intersection of mind, body and spirit. Her passion is helping people shed the behaviors and beliefs keeping them from being fully awake to the wonder and mystery of life. For hand-selected blog posts for Tiny Buddha readers, plus two free meditation gifts, visit

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  • Bullyinglte

    Nice post. I learned the hard way to give myself permission to do things for me. I had become both a martyr and problem avoider. I used being involved with my kids activities as a leader as an excuse to keep busy and never think about myself and my wants. This worked well until my kids didn’t “need” me any more.

    Then I slipped. I fell into a “who am I?” mode with low self-worth, because I never gave myself permission to do anything for me. I now had free time and had no idea who I was or what I liked. I fell into a depression.

    Then, finally, with some help, I decided to do things for me. I started going to the Gym for me. I wrote the book I wanted to write for 10 years, but put off. I started eating better. I found new friends and new things I love to do.

    It’s not that I didn’t still help others, but I gave myself permission to do things for myself. I also gave myself permission to like, and even love myself. That began a positive spiral to being able to enjoy life again and love others the way they should have been. I am now such a happier person for that. Everyone should be able to have permission to have a good day, a bad day, peaks and valleys. As you point out, it works wonderfully when there is a supportive group of family and friends to help. Much appreciated for your words.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Thank you for your great post! I love your story.

    I think it is important to state and re-state that we don’t need permission to do what we want to do.

    I believe we have been conditioned by society and work life (parents, teachers, bosses) to always ask for permission. So we default to asking for permission.

    Which is a real shame.

    So thank you for your great story and reminding everyone that we don’t need permission even if we default to asking for it.

  • There’s a great song about way of thinking by Bobby Brown called “My Prerogative.” “… I don’t need permission to make my own decisions. That’s my prerogative.” 1988.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I’m capable of making my own decisions. Sometimes, people don’t agree with me, but that’s okay, since their approval isn’t needed. I have to do what’s best for myself.

    I got into a heated argument with my sister recently. She feels that I need to put college on hold until I find a decent paying job. I disagree, because I’m doing the best I can to get by. My goal is to finish my education before my fortieth birthday. By then, I’ll have a career in Social Work. My sister doesn’t understand my passion, as well as my determination to make something of myself. If I have to work a second part-time job, I’ll do it. But, she will NOT stop me from finishing school. I’m okay with NOT having my sister’s support.

    Thank you Valerie, for sharing your experience.

  • Capri

    I’ll take that sign! Thank you for sharing. <3

  • Paula Ronen

    To be an adult means owning your decisions and being willing to pay the price (not everyone will understand or be supportive; some people would react with hostility) but going against your true Self, just to please others, will put you on the path of regrets. You know better than anyone else what you need, what you want and what price you are willing to pay. Freedom comes with responsibility, but giving up on your freedom is not an option if you want to be happy.

  • Wonderful! You’re so welcome.

  • If she’s not the one paying for your school, she doesn’t get to call the shots, right? 😉 So glad you’re following your gut. (And hooray fellow social worker!)

  • I’m slightly embarrassed to say I’m more familiar with Britney’s 2004 remake! ;D And YES, it’s your prerogative!

  • You’re welcome and thank you for your comment! I totally agree — makes me want to write another post on how we HAVE to abandon the “script” society/authority figures put on us if we want to be REAL.

  • Thank you, and your story is a huge inspiration, too. A book – wow! We are so conditioned to be externally focused in almost every area of life. I’m glad you’ve taken real steps to tuning in to your INTERNAL antenna to make choices about how you want to spend your time.

  • AMEN. I love how you put this. We have to be responsible for our own choices, not put that responsibility on others, which is really a cop-out so when things don’t go how we want, we can blame it on anyone but ourselves.

  • Bullyinglte

    Yes thank you. My book is called A Ladder In The Dark and is available on Amazon and all book outlets. It is my memoir of working on this and many other items that I needed in my life.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Thank you, Valerie. You’re too kind.

  • So relevant and I bet hits home to many people, Valerie. I am exactly that kind of person as well; always waiting for permission from others (my husband, my Mom, my colleagues, my friends)… And only until I get that permission, do I really feel like I’ve made the “right” choice. When you’ve looked for approval your whole life (and I’m taking responsibility for being that way), it’s hard to all of a sudden shift and recognize and actually take charge of making your own decisions. Of giving yourself permission. But I take your story as a “sign” that I need to do just that. At least, begin to work on it. Living with cancer puts things into a new perspective, too: Like this is MY life, and we’ve only got one. I’m trying to get much more in tune with own body and mind, and circling back to remember what *I* think is best is going to be crucial I think for a life well lived, and on my own terms! Thank you!

  • Black Bart

    I’ve traveled abroad a lot…. ALOT. Americans get , particularly hung up with needing to be liked which, in my opinion, is the root of the myth that you need your partner’s, boss’s, parent’s, society’s,etcpermission to do what you want. A close cousin to needing constant permission is letting circumstances control your choices. Truth is you don’t need their permission and the circumStances of your life don’t have to run you.

  • Let Me Be Real

    Oh the weight lifted. It’s so exhausting spending my life this way. I take risks and then you get “I told you so if it didn’t work out.” The truth is, I trust me. I can take risks and still be a “good” person. I an done being perpetually stuck waiting for approval and permission. Thank you for this.

  • Shannon

    At what point does it become disrespectful to not need permission from say, traditional figures of authority? (I am referencing my father here). There is a line I want to get tattooed as it is something that helps me through the tough times, and means a lot to me. He forbids it, but this is one of very few things close to my heart. I am also of adult age to not require legal permission nor familial to go through with this.

  • Tuipulotu koi

    Thank you so much Valerie, your story reminds me of me and my husband. Like you cannot decide for your self, it is because we are so use to them telling us what to do all the time giving the green light to everything that we have to do. Very inspiring thank you again.