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3 Ways to Own Your Life

Jan/15/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Prioritize yourself, be willing to disappoint others, and don’t apologize for choosing you

Growing up in an Indian family, it’s been ingrained in me to think of everyone else first. My mom was particular about staying connected with the family. My dad has an incredible memory and has both birthdays and phone numbers memorized. I didn’t question their inherent ability to constantly be present for others while compromising so much on their time, health, energy, and monetary obligations.

I will admit that I have worked hard to break the cultural conditioning. But there are days when I fall off the wagon and succumb to societal pressure. Then there are weeks where I have very little time to pause so, without thinking I will do anything that seems “emotionally frivolous.” It takes less time than questioning anything. Every family has idiosyncratic fools and bullies. I minimize my engagement with them, but don’t want their families to be punished because of one badly behaved adult. But mostly, a big part of me likes to make others feel special, and to curate special memories.

Seismic Shifts

2022 was a transformative year for me, both personally and professionally. My dad fell critically ill, and I ended up traveling to India several times. On those long flights, I started to ask myself questions I had conveniently silenced:

Who do we matter to? Who is there for us? There were a handful of people, including my friends, who hopped on a flight to visit dad. But what about the others who did the sugar-coated phone calls but didn’t show their support in person?

I have often found myself drowning in these questions. Who is in town? Which of them need to be invited home for dinner? Who needs to be wished? Call up this uncle or aunt to wish them for the holidays. Who has been hospitalized? Who do I go to the temple to pray for? Where do I mail their gift? When do I host the next gathering? Yada yada.

Worse is when someone doesn’t reciprocate, the mind goes down the rabbit hole: Are they upset? What did I do wrong? Should I try to reach out again? You get my drift.

A Time for Realization

When one of my closest friends recently said to me that I do too much and people are inherently selfish and care only about themselves, I told her that I didn’t agree. “They focus on their kids and siblings, Sweta,” she added. Another friend said, “Hats off to you and your husband for all that you do. But you understand most people are just in it for the free boarding and lodging arrangements.”

I didn’t want to accept. But boy, were they right! Barring a few, most adults are self-seeking, looking out for their interests, and thinking about their needs and wants, then justifying their choices. I am not saying people are right or wrong. I have just learned that most adults focus on themselves.

Do I have expectations? Absolutely yes! But not the way you may think. I don’t want acknowledgment or laurels for all that we do as a family. But I would like to be someone else’s priority, not just an afterthought or a point of convenience. Selfishness hurts. When you go out of your way for others, it’s only human to want to feel “visible” in other people’s eyes.

You must prioritize yourself first; that’s the best self-care tool. That way, you won’t have expectations of others, or feel someone is taking advantage of you. There is nothing more hurtful than falling in your own eyes while feeling like a victim. I am in awe of how my parents have always been so giving. But I no longer want to repeat my parents’ mistakes. Bless their souls, but they weren’t always people’s first choice BECAUSE they could be taken for granted. Everyone knew they would always be there. I don’t want to be that person. I am worthy of love and belonging.

The 3 Ways to Show Yourself Love This Year

Prioritize your mental well-being

You cannot allow others to dictate your emotional well-being. We can’t be attached to other people’s attitudes, unpredictable moods, or transient preferences .Else we’d be emotional yo-yos. Sometimes, upset; other times, exuberant. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel authentic or right just because you have been trained to show up for everyone. My home won’t be a rest area or a dharamshala for those flying in and out of NYC unless we share a special bond, and their visit includes wanting to spend time with us.

Be okay with disappointing others

It’s not your job to make others happy. We have to get over the notion that adults can’t be disappointed. Or someone is way younger than us or older, so we must accommodate. That self-imposed emotional blackmailing is just as toxic as someone else manipulating you. I have seen people skip funerals or birthdays (I know, extreme examples) or wakes without batting an eyelid. But they will drive three hours to a friend’s 40th birthday party to get wasted. No one tells them anything. I’m not that person, and I wouldn’t aspire to ever be that detached or callous, but I’m learning to care less about how others feel.

Don’t apologize for choosing you

It’s exhausting driving to a gathering after spending an entire weekend in school and a full week at work. It’s not easy planning to get-togethers after dealing with sick people during the day. But we have done it for years now. In 2022, for Christmas, my husband and I traveled to Lake Placid and spent the weekend by ourselves. In the quietude of the snow, sacredness of Christmas festivities, warmth of a small town, and no pressure of carrying gifts and food, we both felt rejuvenated.

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” ~ Audre Lorde