In 2019 I learned that ownership and commitment are very important to me. And by that I mean to be able to shape my life on my own terms. That relating myself to a collective norm gives me a lot of peace, but this calmness disappears very quickly and turns into an uncomfortable hopelessness. I could let this go, settle for the here and now, as it should be, learn to shape my identity around the norm. And believe me, I tried, but I failed particularly well.
At the beginning of 2019 I started talking to a coach about a major internal dilemma. A dilemma that comes down to being restless when I have no prospect of a self-designed ambition. An adventurous ambition. A period in which I’m just not part of any system and I’m not bound by a standard either. I’m 32 now, I have a relationship, a great job and I rent an apartment in Rotterdam.
The dilemma therefor is whether I would like to put all this at stake for a perhaps self-centered and ambitious idea of a lonely period in my life with a bicycle and a tent.
My coach and I quickly came to a very important insight in the discussions we had with each other. Being able to be yourself in your full potential and thus shaping your life on your own terms is the most beautiful and probably the most important thing in a human being.
In realizing my full potential I was trapped in a paradox. I feel enormous pressure, a pressure that forms around expectations (own and from others) that become stronger the more responsibility I take for a role in society. With a role in society I mean mainly being a husband, perhaps a father, maintaining the emotional connection with family and working for a better society and being able to pay for a home from that work. The bottom line is to function as part of a community and taking care of each other. Helping each other with problems, being a listening ear but also having fun together.
I came up with questions about my identity when I did more research into myself. I realised that your identity, who you are, forms very strongly around what situation and with what values you grew up. And the accompanying traumas that form around the human problems we all have. And another layer, namely the community, often a religious or other spiritual connection that influences how problems are seen and accepted (or not).
My identity is formed around someone who has learned to be independent because my parents thought me that this was important. I developed as someone who rebels against expectations imposed by others and frees himself from those expectations. I often felt different or maybe I found that out later in life. I was always someone who shapes his own life and learned very well how to be alone. I also learned to protect myself against emotional pain at a young age. Out of protection for situations or from others through bullying.
I spent a great deal of attention on it for years, reading books, went to places that were out of my comfort zone, to become aware of who I actually was. I was jealous of friendships of others. My friendship was with myself. Building a good connection with someone else was extremely difficult because I could not open up. Until I started to wonder, why am I flourishing alone, what the f *** is wrong with me?
The conclusion? My own expectation about who I should actually be versus who I want to be is a paradox. I want to be a collective person with a lot of friends and a very important role in society. Who I really am is someone else. An introvert that is most comfortable being alone. Who sets up his tent in the dunes and enjoys the sea completely isolated for two days.
Learning to communicate well and building an emotional connection with others is perpendicular to this. First I came unconsciously and then consciously to a very beautiful insight, especially during my cycling journey through Europe and Asia. Namely how beautiful the connection between people in a collective society is, I have never really known that feeling myself.
I gave speakings about my identity several times this year. Stories about the adventures in my journey I had already done too much and to keep speakings interesting I looked for a more in depth story. I then started to look deeper into myself. It was difficult because that made me uncomfortable. But I learned to become comfortable with my uncomfortable self to be able to talk and tell about it. This was an incredibly difficult and long journey but at the same time it got to feel very liberating afterwards.
The liberation is that through this discovery I can take ownership of who I am. Can manage expectations towards others well and can strongly guard my own personal boundaries. For example, I’m just not a group person and when I’m invited for an important gathering you won’t see me in the foreground. Or I can honestly say that I’ll not come because I feel uncomfortable in large company. That this is an option at all, now that I describe it, even feels emotionally. To get recognition from others I always had to be the best version of their expectations. But the f***ing truth is that this is not necessary at all.
People who cannot live with that create a problem for themselves, namely that I cannot live up to their expectations. That is not my problem as long as it is not my expectation. And that makes a difference, because then I don’t have to solve it either by presenting myself as someone who isn’t really me in the first place.
Standing up for yourself in this way requires courage, decisiveness and often confrontation. And especially in the case of confrontation you’ll have to be strong. I think it is very brave if people dare to seek confrontation to guard their own boundaries and then ensure that they can flourish to their full potential.
I see 2019 as the year in which I came to these insights with the help of my coach and others. I quite my job, I will be unemployed in three months. 2020 will be a very adventurous year for me and I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m very grateful if you have read this article and hope that you can mirror yourself through your own path and that it’ll give you some strength.
I wish you a 2020 in which you can be yourself and in which you can flourish in your full potential.