Approval. We all seek it. I still don’t quite understand why we feel the need to gain approval from our family and friends to live a certain way, take a certain path, or even make a certain choice. But we do. And I wanted approval to travel the world.
When I first told people I was going to quit my job and travel with D, the responses were not positive in general:
You can’t travel with your boyfriend unless he proposes first.
You’re so lucky you don’t have to work.
You’re lazy, and taking the easy way out because you don’t want to work anymore.
You will never find another job again. EVER.
You can’t just not do anything with your life.
These are all expected. After all, our society is one that rewards hard work and sacrifice with raises and promotions, so that we can work even harder and sacrifice even more, in order to pay for things we’ve been told that we need to have a good life. Wanting something else – wanting to be actually happy – is just a selfish, self-indulgent desire. Why should I get a ticket out when everybody is stuck in their own personal hell?
This can all be expected. But it was still devastating to not receive support.
As much as I knew in my heart that NONE of the above statements are true, it’s still all too easy to let the negative comments get under your skin. I admit it, I let them affect me big time.
Even though I was happy and confident in my relationship with D, I let other people’s fears question just how strong it is. It almost broke us apart. Luckily, before it did permanent damage, I realized that all it mattered was how we feel towards each other. And that I don’t need to flash a stupid diamond ring (that I can’t even wear anyway in certains parts of the world!) just to make others feel more secure.
But worst of all, all the negative comments made me question whether traveling really is in my best interest. I wondered if I should just continue to stay in a job that didn’t feel right, because isn’t having health insurance and a pension plan the most important? Am I dumb to throw away something that millions of Americans wish they had?
As I struggled to find myself during those months, all the criticism left a huge imprint of doubt on my heart. But I also heard another set of words that left an even bigger impact. And that’s what this post is about.
It’s kinda funny how people will start to open up to you about their lives, once they hear you’re doing something different with yours. People who you’ve barely exchanged 2 sentences with will all of a sudden have very strong opinions about the choices you’re making. And in the midst of all that negativity, there was something I heard over and over again that crossed off any lingering doubt in my mind.
And that’s remorse, regret, sadness.
People expressed remorse that they never lived life the way they wanted to when they were young, before having kids, while healthy, etc. And now they feel stuck in their lives, needing to support a family and only having retirement to look forward to. Or that they worked their entire lives, and now only have a house to show for it.
“I wish I could do that, but I just got married and have a baby on the way,” one young man in his early 30’s expressed. His tone wistful, with a twinge of jealousy.
“I never traveled when I was young, and now I’m just waiting for retirement to have more time,” one older man confided. “I have 10 more years.” His eyes full of regret, but also hope for eventual happiness in retirement.
And then there was Peter. Peter was a client I worked with, and we did not get along at all. There were times he came into my office yelling and cursing at me, for no apparent reason. I was convinced that it was his personal mission to make my job harder. But when I eventually broke the news to all the clients, his reaction surprised me the most.
“I’m proud of you.” he said, beaming. And in that moment, he finally respected me as someone brave enough to pursue a different kind of dream. “Your parents will be proud of you one day too.”
I hope he’s right. And I’m sure it’ll be true someday. But at the same time, I’ve also learned it doesn’t matter. Because in the end, I don’t need anyone’s approval to be happy.
And I don’t want to be that person who, in later life, silently regrets not having lived enough.
For what’s the single most common thing I heard? “I wish I had done that when I was young.”
And those 10 little words scared me more than the harshest criticism or even threats of excommunication.
Those 10 words were all that I really needed to hear.
To know that I never want to utter those same words.