From the Outside In

Maybe it’s the result of a typical midlife crisis, but I suddenly became tired of the way things have been. A friend pointed out to me that you can’t make a life from the outside in; it must be from the inside out. For so many years I didn’t realize that I was building my life from the outside in, trying to get the outer parts lined up before my soul was really ready.

I looked for acceptance from others without learning to accept myself. I got engaged after six weeks, without giving myself space to consider if we needed to move so quickly or just enjoy dating. When I abruptly ended my career, I went straight onto another path without processing the loss. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row without really learning or processing the lessons as they presented themselves, without really feeling them. I wanted to create a life from the outside in, thinking that if i could succeed in one or multiple ways I’d be content, or at least finished with the struggle. I just wanted to get there already. This impatience makes sense to me now, but in hindsight I wish I had taken some time to let the moments be for a while.

Growing up, my life was unsteady. Major outer situations shifted with my mom’s moods. Her moods erupted unpredictably. For some reason, I convinced myself that other people were nothing like my mother — that everywhere else, things made perfect sense and everyone was rational. This wasn’t true, of course, but it’s what I wanted to believe for a while.

And so… I sought out appearances and rational clarity and sometimes missed the truth of what was underneath — the things your intuition will tell you even if the logic doesn’t compute. I believed a lot of facades, including my own at times. If I thought I “should” feel a certain way or do a certain thing, then I would want to. This is a way I hid from myself.

Now, I am tired of living my life from the outside in. I want the truth of what is inside me to flow out. When difficult truths present themselves, I want to be honest about them. I want to feel comfortable in my skin AND comfortable with my thoughts and emotions. I want to pause the construction of things when something inside me is questioning or uncomfortable. Safety hasn’t come in the times when I frantically construct the path. It comes when I listen to what is inside and trust the truth to direct my path, however slowly or jaggedly it leads me. I want to embrace the roadblocks and see what they can teach me.

As I reflect on how I used to approach my life, I wonder how exactly to work with the pieces I’ve acquired. I can’t go back to the past and slow down, and it is more complicated to transform a life than to construct one from the beginning. Changing dynamics that have existed for a while is challenging. What if I am a very different version of myself? What if those I love don’t like it? The truth is that I would rather be honest.

Living bravely and honestly seems to be the only way I CAN live these days. Since partially disconnecting with my mom (which has taken all of my bravery) I have no energy for fronting anymore. If I am willing to make a stand with her, even though it breaks my heart, why would I hold onto other dynamics that aren’t working for me? I find that as I get stronger, all of my relationships are changing a little. I’m okay with that. I welcome the changes and find them exciting.

Can you relate to trying to create a life from the outside in? Have you made choices before getting in touch with your true reasons, or have you rushed things because you were looking for something you thought others — but not you — possessed?

I can now see that I craved the stability I saw in others. It was something I didn’t know how to create on my own. Now I know that another’s stability cannot become mine. I can observe it, learn from it, and benefit from it, but I cannot absorb it. I have to find my own. Part of that stability comes from looking within and knowing who I really am, apart from what others think of me.

A trusted friend advised me recently to slow down, even now. Slow down: don’t respond so quickly. Slow down: listen to what people are really saying. Slow down: give people space when they aren’t ready to show up in a healthy way. Slow down, and give myself space to process. Slow down, and let things be. This feels like the antidote to frantically trying to line things up, and I welcome the shift.

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