How To Live for Yourself

Are you living someone else’s life?

Maybe it’s your parents who want you to become a lawyer. Maybe it’s your partner who is pressuring you to start a family.

Don’t give in to these forces. Push back. Learn how to live for yourself.

In this article, I will discuss why we are so easily swayed by outside expectations and how we can reclaim our freedom.

Why You Must Start Living for Yourself

Most of us live our lives on autopilot. We do what everybody else does — go to college, get a job, get married, have kids.

But by blindly following the script, we never get to get to discover ourselves. We never explore our different facets and hidden desires.

Only at the end of our lives do we finally realize our mistakes. With little time left, we begin to regret our timidness.

Why didn’t we travel the world? Why didn’t we become an artist? Why didn’t we run off with that hot mess?

We wish we could go back in time and live a more daring life. But we’ve missed the boat.

The good news is that if you are reading this, it is not too late yet. You can still learn how to live for yourself.

Why It’s Hard

There are three reasons why we struggle with living our own lives:

  1. Our parents’ expectations
  2. Our cultural imprint
  3. Our need to compare ourselves

1. Our Parents’ Expectations

The number one factor why we don’t live our own lives is our parents. From the day we were born, we were exposed to their expectations, the way they envisioned our lives for us.

Whether we realize it or not, we have deeply internalized these expectations. The values we subscribe to, the career paths we choose, the people we sleep with — all of that reflects our earliest programming.

Even if you choose to rebel against your parents, you are still rebelling against their worldview. In a sense, they are still controlling you. It is 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 much our cultural imprint affects us until we long-term travel. Only when we experience other cultures do we understand how arbitrary our own cultural conventions are.

3. Our Need To Compare Ourselves

As social creatures, we must constantly compare our own lives against the lives of those around us. We can’t help it.

So, if Jimmy gets a promotion, you want a promotion. If Carol gets to travel to Paris, why shouldn’t you? And if the Hubermans are buying a new home, that’s what you will do.

Keeping up with the Joneses becomes your sole mission in life. It never crosses your mind to deviate.

But Isn’t Living for Yourself Selfish?

Anything that humans do is selfish.

When someone does something “selfless” like feeding the poor, they do so because of the positive emotional spike they get from that. It makes them feel needed.

Now, as a thought experiment, imagine they wouldn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Would they still spend their Sundays at the homeless shelter? 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 emotional high.

Don’t let others shame you for your preferred high.

Also, 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 pressuring you about starting a family, there is nothing noble about that. 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!” what they are really saying is, “You should be doing what I want you to do!”

Don’t fall for it. 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, lovers, friends — the more freedom you will experience.

There are two components to this:

  1. Calling them out
  2. Remaining non-reactive

The first thing is to call them out. When someone is trying to emotionally blackmail you, speak up. Let them know you see through them and won’t go along with it.

Now, they will either try to bog you down in an argument. Or they will give you the silent treatment.

Either way, don’t engage. Don’t argue, and don’t come crawling back to them. Stay calm and carry on.

If their behavior bothers you, try journaling. By explaining the situation to yourself, you will feel less upset. It will be harder for them to get into your head.

2. Practice Being Uncomfortable

Living for yourself means going against the social script. You must make your own choices, no matter what the herd tells you.

The headwind will be difficult to face at times.

That’s why you should practice being uncomfortable. Put yourself in awkward situations to desensitize yourself.

Here are some ideas:

  • Lay down in public. In broad daylight, 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 want to exchange contact details with you.
  • Ask for a freebie. Walk inside a store, pick an item, and ask the cashier nicely if you could have this product for free.

You will most likely feel silly doing these things. But that’s the point — you must learn to bear the tension.

3. Don’t Be a Victim

When you suffer from a lack of independence, it is tempting to blame those around you. “My parents/my friends/my partner always wanted me to remain helpless.”

But even if that’s true — you allowed it to happen. Manipulators need people who want to be manipulated.

To learn how to live for yourself, you must stop blaming others. Only you are responsible for yourself, nobody else.

4. Define Boundaries

To live for yourself, you must define boundaries.

Get a pen and a piece of paper, and write down which behaviors you won’t tolerate in others.

For example, if your 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 family member always expects you to attend certain functions. In that case, note down, “I will not let my mother guilt trip me into showing up for Sunday dinners.”

By codifying what you won’t do, you are less likely to buckle in the future.

5. Learn To Say “No”

Defining your boundaries is one thing. But to enforce them, you must learn to say “No.”

You have two options here.

You can let the other person down gently. Or you can be direct. Both approaches have their place.

Sometimes, it is better to give a gentle “No.” You avoid pointless confrontations, and they still get the message.

Here are some good strategies:

  • Direct them to another resource: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that. But you could ask X; they are very knowledgeable about this.”
  • Buy yourself time: “I can’t say yet. 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 really busy with this work thing right now.” In Western cultures, work as an excuse trumps everything.

However, with some people, you have to be direct.

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 intimacy, you should not mince words. 

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 cannot use any of the soft “Nos.” You must outright reject any request; no justifications. Keep this up, and your fear of offending others will soon vanish.

6. Reclaim Your Time

As long as others control how you spend your time, you are not free. You must reclaim your time.

To do so, reserve a good chunk of time for yourself every day. Schedule it in your calendar as you would any other appointment. It’s non-negotiable.

What you do during that time is up to you. If you want to build a side hustle, go for it. If you want to idle, do that. But be you.

7. Stop Comparing Yourself

Understand — what most people choose is not due to reason. They are just blindly following the social script.

So, why would you compare yourself to these followers and their random metrics for success?

Only you can decide what constitutes success for you. For example, if your goal in life is to work as little as possible, optimize for that. Don’t feel obligated to climb the corporate ladder.

8. Get Clarity on Your Values

To live for yourself, you must know what you stand for. What are your core values?

As an exercise, imagine a genie in a bottle offered to endow you with three outstanding personal qualities. What would these be?

These are the values you should aspire to.

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. They will use their financial leverage over you to make you behave as they want.

To overcome this, you must acquire a marketable skillset.

I 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 out what you need to know. 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 will increase your prices.

10. Create a Vision for Your Life

You need to create a vision for your life. When you are clear on what you want to accomplish, you are less likely to get deterred by other people. Your life will be yours.

Don’t be afraid to question the status quo. Your vision must only please you, nobody else.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Career. You don’t need to spend eight hours in a cubicle every day. You could also make a living based on your passion.
  • Relationships. You don’t need to settle for a sexless marriage. You could also be in an open relationship and keep the spark alive.
  • Health. You don’t have to decay as you grow older. You could also learn to enjoy healthy foods and physical activity, staying fit and attractive into your later years.

Write down the vision you come up with. Hang it up in a central place like your kitchen or your bathroom, where you must look at it several times per day. You could also create a vision map for yourself.

11. Find Your Passion

As long as you do things that are not in sync with who you are, you are not living for yourself. You must discover your passion.

Here are three strategies to do so.

First, look at the historical data. In some form, your passion has already manifested itself. Specifically, think about what you enjoyed doing as a kid. For example, if you spent every free minute doodling, maybe you should explore life as an artist.

Second, test your hypothesis. If you think drawing graphic novels might be your thing, try it out for six months. After that, reevaluate. Did it make you feel good? If not, try the next thing. The more things you test out, the closer you will get to finding your passion.

Third, don’t fall for the “coolness trap.” Just because something sounds exciting on paper doesn’t mean it actually is. You might dream about becoming a movie star, but in practice, it might make you feel miserable.

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, we obsess almost nonstop about all of its varieties.

Yet, in real life, most people never move past vanilla sex with the same long-term partner. That’s what society approves of, so that’s what we’ll do.

But who makes these rules? If you are a woman who is fantasizing about gang bangs, why don’t try it? If you are an unhappily married man who yearns to explore his suppressed 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.

13. Travel

One of the best tools for becoming more independent is solo travel. All the people who usually interfere with your life, you leave back at home.

Also, while traveling, you will be confronted with challenges that you don’t how to deal with yet. You will have to find solutions on the spot. This will teach you to become more resourceful.

Finally, you will meet lots of new, autonomous people — traveling tends to attract these. You can learn from them by osmosis.

14. Deal With the Pushback

Learning how to live for yourself will create pushback.

The people close to you will be angry with you for going against their expectations. Why must you suddenly get ideas?

Also, they will dislike the loss of control. In the past, they could force you to behave in a certain way. Now, they can’t predict you anymore.

On a deeper level, they will feel threatened by you. If you succeed at becoming free, that questions their own existence. Could they have chosen their own path, too? Nobody likes to confront that question.

For all of these reasons, people will punish you.

First, they will try to guilt trip you, like you owe them something. If that doesn’t work, they will withdraw affection, to make you cave.

How do you deal with that?

First, never argue. If you wish, calmly explain your rationale for becoming independent — once.

After that, no more discussions. If that means not talking to your parents for a couple of months or breaking up with somebody, so be it.

Simultaneously, learn how to talk to strangers. By actively building out your social network, you will be less emotionally dependent on your old connections. If they decide to withhold their affection to punish you, there will be new people to get your affection from.

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