Are you living out someone’s else idea of life?
Maybe it’s your parents who want you to become a lawyer. Maybe it’s your partner who is nagging you to do “the right thing” and finally start a family.
Don’t give in to these outside forces. Push back. Learn how to live for yourself.
In this article, we will discuss why we are so easily swayed by external expectations, and how you can reclaim your freedom.
Why You Must Start Living For Yourself
Most of us live our lives on autopilot. We just do what everybody else around us is doing — go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, etc.
But by blindly following the script, we never get to get to discover ourselves. We never explore our different facets and hidden desires.
Only when we are nearing the end of our lives do we finally realize our mistakes. With little time left, we start to despise our own timidness.
Why didn’t we travel the world? Why didn’t we try to make it as an artist? Why didn’t we run away with that hot mess?
We wish we could go back in time and live a more daring life. But you’ve missed the boat.
This is tragic.
The good news — if you are reading this, it is not too late yet. You still have time to act on your doubts about the status quo.
You can still learn how to live for yourself.
Why We Struggle With Living Our Own Lives
There are 3 reasons why we struggle with living our own lives:
- Our parents’ expectations
- Our cultural imprint
- Our tendency to compare ourselves
1. Our Parents’ Expectations
The number one factor why we don’t live our own lives is our parents. From day 1, we were exposed to their expectations, the way they wanted us to live our lives.
We have deeply internalized these expectations, whether we realize it or not. The values we subscribe to, the career paths we choose, the people we sleep with — all of that is a reflection of our earliest programming.
Even if you choose to rebel against your parents, you are still rebelling against their input. It is very tricky to escape this dynamic.
2. Our Cultural Imprint
To a large extent, we are a product of the society we grew up in.
If you were raised evangelically Christian in East Texas, your worldview would be fundamentally different from someone who grew up in communist North Korea.
We don’t even realize how our cultural imprint is responsible for our way of life until we leave our homes behind. Only when we experience other cultures do we realize how arbitrary our own cultural conventions are.
3. Our Tendency To Compare Ourselves
As social creates, we cannot help it — we must constantly compare our own lives against the lives of those around us.
So, if Jimmy gets a promotion, we also want a promotion. If Carol gets to travel to Cancun, why shouldn’t you? And if Peter and Laura are taking out a mortgage to finance their new home, that’s what you will do.
Keeping up with the Joneses becomes your sole mission in life. There is no room for deviation anymore.
But Isn’t Living For Yourself Selfish?
Anything humans do is selfish.
When someone does something “selfless” like feeding the poor or treating wounded soldiers, they do so because of the strong emotional response they experience. It makes them feel like they matter.
Now, as a thought experiment, imagine they wouldn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Would they still be doing what they are doing? No. There would be no incentive anymore.
Different people get off on different things. Some people feel good about helping others. Some people feel good about making lots of money. But ultimately, they are chasing the same high.
Don’t let others shame you for your specific high.
Also, what about those who pressure you to behave in a certain way?
When your parents want you to go college and become a lawyer, they don’t do so out of the goodness of their hearts. Your social status reflects on their social status.
Likewise, if your partner is nagging you about starting a family, that is not a noble move on their part. The world is too overpopulated as it is. But they are craving the experience of having a child.
Every time someone tells you, “You are being so selfish!” reply with, “What do you think you are doing? You are just pushing your agenda, the thing that you want to happen.”
Don’t fall for the illusion of “selflessness.” It’s a tool that non-selfless people use to make you do stuff.
Go live your life and don’t apologize.
14 Ways To Live For Yourself
Here are 14 strategies to become more autonomous.
1. Become Emotionally Independent
Learning how to live for yourself starts with emotional independence.
The better you become at ignoring the expectations of those close to you — your parents, your lovers, your friends — the more freedom you will enjoy.
There are two components to this:
- Learning to speak up
- Learning to endure their displeasure
The first thing is to push back. When someone is trying to make you do something by emotionally blackmailing you, speak up. Let them know you look through what they are doing and you won’t go along with it.
The second thing is to endure the ensuing aggressive silence. You called their bluff, now they are letting you suffer. Maybe you will still carve if they just wait you out.
To deal with this, start journaling. By explaining to yourself what is going on in writing, you will feel less of an urge to come running back to them. Their sit-and-wait tactic won’t work.
2. Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
To live for yourself means to go against the social script, aka what the herd is telling you to do.
This will lead to confrontations and they will make you feel uncomfortable.
If you carve, then nothing is going to change. Yes, it will feel more comfortable in the moment. But you will pay the price for your weakness later when you look upon a life wasted.
Become comfortable being uncomfortable. It is the price of personal freedom.
There are certain comfort challenges you can try to help this process along:
- Lay down in public. In broad daylight, simply lay down on a busy sidewalk or in a shopping mall. Do this for at least 3 minutes.
- Ask for a number. Compliment an attractive stranger and ask them if they would like to exchange contact details with you.
- Ask for a freebie. Walk inside a store, pick an item, and ask the cashier if you could have this thing for free.
You will most likely feel silly doing these things, as they are not normally done. But that’s the point of the exercise — to get you comfortable going against the grain.
Eventually, you will even come to enjoy the friction. It will make you feel alive.
3. Don’t Be a Victim
When you want to learn how to live for yourself, it is important to not give into a victim mindset.
It is tempting to blame those around us. “My parents/my friends/my partners always wanted me to remain helpless.”
And while this might be true, it is also true that you let that happen.
Manipulators need people who want to be manipulated. It was your naivety that allowed them to do what they did.
Stop blaming and finally take responsibility for your own life.
4. Set Boundaries
If you want to live for yourself, it is crucial to set boundaries. Define what behaviors by others you won’t tolerate. Do so in writing.
For example, if a certain friend always expects you to fix their messes, note down, “I will not jump to Nina’s rescue next time she comes calling.”
Or maybe a certain family member always expects you to attend certain functions. In that case, note down, “I will not let my mum guilt trip me into attending Sunday dinners.”
By codifying what you won’t do, you are much less likely to buckle in the future.
5. Learn To Say “No”
To enforce your boundaries, you must learn to say “No.”
There are two ways to do so.
You can let the other person down gently. Or you can be direct. Both approaches have their uses.
In some instances, it is easier for everybody if you make it a gentle “No.” You avoid an energy-draining confrontation, while they still get the message.
Here are some options:
- Direct them to another resource: “Sorry, I can’t help you at the moment. But you could ask X, they are very knowledgeable about this.”
- Buy yourself time: “Let me get back to you by email.” It’s easier to let someone down when it’s not face-to-face.
- Use work as a pretext: “Sorry, but I am very busy with this new project at work right now.” Work trumps everything.
However, with some people, you have to be direct, otherwise, they won’t get the message.
For example, if your partner always wants you to hang out with their friends but you don’t enjoy that, let them know in no uncertain terms. With that level of closeness, there is no point in walking on eggshells.
If you are afraid to use the direct option that is all the more reason to use it. Your tendency to avoid confrontations is probably the reason why you are not independent in the first place.
Turn this into a challenge. For a month straight, you are not allowed to use any of the soft “Nos.” Instead, you must outright reject any request. No justifications.
Go through with this, and you will desensitize yourself. Your fear of confrontations will vanish.
6. Spend Time With Yourself
When others determine how you live your life, it essentially means they decide how you spend your time.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you reclaim your time.
Every day, reserve a good chunk of time for yourself. Plan it into your day as you would any other appointment. It’s non-negotiable.
What you do during your me time is up to you. If you want to pursue your hobby, go for it. If you want to idle, do that.
7. Stop Comparing Yourself
Just because most people get a 9 to 5 or get married doesn’t mean those are the “right” things to do.
Understand — what most people opt for is not due to reason. They are just blindly following the social script.
So, why would you compare yourself to these followers? Their success metrics are borrowed.
Only you can decide what constitutes success for you. For example, if instead of climbing the corporate ladder, you would rather work as little as possible, that should be your measurement stick.
Stop partaking in a race of lemmings.
8. Get Clarity on Your Values
You cannot live for yourself unless you find out what you stand for.
What are your core values?
This can be a tricky question to answer, though, as up until now, you probably let others decide for you. You never got a chance to find yourself.
One thing you can do is to think back to moments of crisis. Remember how you felt back then, and what your gut told you to do before you let someone else sway you.
The other thing you must do is from here on out, you must listen to yourself. Whenever you reach a crossroads, only take your own counsel.
Get enough of these reference experiences under your belt, and certain patterns will start to emerge. For example, it might become apparent that you always seek out learning opportunities. That would suggest self-improvement is one of your core values.
9. Take Care of Your Finances
To live for yourself, you must master your finances.
As long as you are dependent on other people for money, you won’t have freedom. Whenever you do something that is not in line with their wishes, they will threaten to cut you off.
To solve this, you must acquire a marketable skillset. I would always recommend going with a service that you can deliver online, like graphic design, copywriting, or development.
This way, you will become financially independent as well as location-independent. It will allow you to move cities easily or even travel while working.
Don’t put this off. You don’t need to study design first to work as a graphic designer. Simply advertise your services for cheap on a Freelancer platform like Fiverr. Once you take on your first project, you will be forced to figure it out. And since your clients are paying very little, you can’t be expected to deliver high quality. Look at it like a paid internship. Over time, as you get better, you can increase your prices.
10. Create a Vision for Your Life
To not go whichever way the wind blows, you need to create a vision for your life. When you are clear on what you want to accomplish during your limited amount on this planet, there is much less chance you will get deterred.
Don’t be afraid to question the status quo. Creating a vision for yourself is not the same as copying everybody else’s life plan.
Some tough questions you should ask yourself are:
- Career. How do I want to want to make my money? Do I really want to spend eight hours at a cubicle every day, filling out Excel sheets? Or could I also make a living based on my passion?
- Relationships. How do I want to go about sex and love? Do I really want to end up in a sexless marriage, and secretly despise my partner? Or could I also be close to several people to fulfill different needs inside myself?
- Health. How do I want to treat my body? Do I really want to destroy my body by eating processed foods and doing chronic cardio, like everybody else? Or could I come up with a different way of eating and exercising?
Write down the answer you come up with. Hang them up in a central place like your kitchen or your bathroom, where you must look at them several times per day. You could also create a vision map for yourself, to visualize your answers.
11. Find Your Passion
As long as spend your time doing things that are not in sync with who you are, you are not living for yourself. Hence, you must discover your passion.
Here are three strategies to do so.
First, look at historical data. Your passion has already manifested itself, you are just not aware of it. Specifically, think about what you enjoyed doing as a kid. For example, if you spend hours each day reading, maybe you should become a writer or a content creator.
Second, test your hypothesis. If you think creating content might be your thing, go all in for six months. After that, reevaluate. Did it make you feel good? If not, right away try a new hypothesis. The more things you test out, the better you will come to understand yourself.
Third, don’t fall for the “coolness trap.” Just because something sounds exciting on paper doesn’t mean it will make you feel good. What we find cool and what actually makes us feel fulfilled are usually two different things.
12. Break Away Sexually
A huge part of living for yourself is exploring your sexuality.
Sex is one of the most defining areas of our lives. Especially during the first half of our lives, almost anything we do relates back to increasing our sexual market value. We are all obsessed with getting some.
Yet, most people never move past the societally approved paradigm. Having missionary sex with a long-term partner (preferably your spouse) is the extent of it.
But who makes these rules? If you are a woman who is fantasizing about gang bangs, why should you not go for it? If you are an unhappily married man who secretly yearns to explore his homosexuality, what is stopping you?
Act on these impulses. You only have this one live. Don’t waste it on other people’s ideas of morality.
One of the best tools for becoming more independent is traveling.
When you travel, you only bring yourself. All the people who usually try to interfere, you leave at home.
Also, while traveling, you will be confronted with situations that you don’t how to deal with (yet). This will force you to become more resourceful and self-reliant.
Finally, you will meet lots of new, autonomous people (traveling tends to attract these).
Interacting with them and observing them will broaden your horizons. It will give you a better idea of what it means to be free.
14. Deal With the Pushback
Learning how to live for yourself will create pushback.
The people close will be angry with you for not living up to their expectations. Your parents especially will feel like you owe them something, a certain way of behaving that reflects well on them.
Also, by becoming autonomous, those close to you can feel their grip slipping on you. They can’t control you anymore like they used to. That frightens them.
On a deeper level, they will feel threatened by what you are trying to do. If you succeed at becoming independent, that questions their existence. Could they have done this as well? Were they maybe just too afraid to try? Nobody likes to confront these questions.
For all these reasons, people will try to guilt trip you. If that doesn’t work, they will use their ultimate weapon — withdrawing affection.
How do you deal with this pushback?
First, never justify yourself, never argue. If you wish, calmly explain your rationale for becoming independent — once.
After that, every further attempt to sway you should be ignored. If that means not answering your parents’ call for a couple of months or leaving your partner, so be it. It’s your life.
Simultaneously, practice your skills to meet strangers. Every time you leave the house, talk to at least one new person — in line at the supermarket, in the elevator, at the restaurant.
By actively expanding your social options, you will become less emotionally dependent on your old connections. If they decide to withdraw their affection, there will be new people to take their place.