We live in a society that pushes us to live for others—specifically, other people’s happiness.
If you think about it, we grew up trying to meet other people’s expectations: our parents, teachers, friends, peers, and family.
We are used to constantly doing what others expect from us because we are used to the acceptance and approval we get when we do things “the right way”.
Maybe you made a life decision you aren’t particularly happy about. Or maybe you made a choice because you were told to do so. Or probably that choice is the “norm” and everyone else makes that choice too.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of ways you can start living for yourself and stop putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own needs.
Here’s a full guide to help you live for yourself.
What “ Live For Yourself Not For Others ” Means
Before we dig deeper in this blog post, I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by “live for yourself not for others”.
Living for Others – What It Does & Doesn’t Mean
In the context of this post, living for others doesn’t refer to altruistic acts or helping someone in need (stranger, family, or friends).
If helping others is something that truly and genuinely brings you happiness and peace of mind, then by all means keep being an amazing human being.
But in this blog post, living for others refers to how small acts in our day-to-day make us hold back from being our authentic selves, like:
- Acting differently from who you are to avoid being embarrassed
- Doing things based on what people will think
- Choosing goals and aspirations based on what other people want for you (society, parents, peers)
- Constantly looking for external validation
- Wanting to please others (even if that makes you unhappy and uncomfortable)
- Holding back your thoughts and ideas to avoid making others unhappy
Living for Yourself – What It Does & Doesn’t Mean
Living for yourself is not a selfish act. It doesn’t mean we are going to ignore everything and everyone around us, or that we are only going to satisfy our wants and needs.
It also doesn’t mean we are no longer altruistic with those in need, or that we are not going to be doing things for others.
Living for yourself means:
- Making life choices that align with your wants, needs, and values
- Doing things despite the fear of judgment, embarrassment, or what other people will think
- Taking time and energy out of your day to make yourself happy
- Prioritizing yourself (your mental health and physical health)
- Not pretending to be different just to fit in
- Paying attention to your inner voice
- Making choices because you want to, not because you have to
A Note: The Limitations of Living for Yourself
Everything that we mentioned before sounds amazing, but it is easier said than done, and in some cases it can even be impossible to do.
We cannot pretend that we all have the freedom to make immense life changes from one day to the next. Some people may be financially dependent on a parent or a partner, or there may be religious obligations.
In some cases, deciding to live for yourself could even be dangerous for you (or for others).
Or sometimes we have to do the thing we don’t want to do because it is the best option at that moment in time.
This is why this post is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all. Some things may be impossible to do for one person, but completely doable for another. In the following sections we will cover how we can include small changes in our life that can also have a big impact.
Why You Deserve to Live For Yourself
Now that we acknowledged the limitations, let’s discuss why you deserve to put yourself first.
You Deserve to Explore Your Passions
If you’re always doing things for other people, you are limiting the opportunities that can feel good and fulfilling. You deserve the opportunity to explore your passions, meet new people, and live a life that is worth living. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
As Brené Brown said in The Gifts of Imperfection:
“When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving”.
So You Can Give More of Yourself to Others
As we said before, living for yourself is not necessarily selfish. On the contrary, it can even help you give more to others.
Keep in mind the cheesy (but true) phrase that goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.
It is important that you prioritize yourself and your mental health because in order to be an amazing friend, partner, or parent, you need to take care of yourself as well.
When you are living a fulfilling and authentic life, you can give all of your extra energy, love, and passion to others around you.
Live For Yourself – Here’s How
It can be really difficult to start living for ourselves when we’ve spent most of our lives living for others.
Not only that, we all withhold ourselves from being 100% authentic in different ways. Some may choose careers they do not want, others may hide their passions, quirks, and flaws.
So, let’s go step by step so you can identify where you can make changes and how. At your own pace, at your own time. Make this journey completely yours.
Step 1: Identify Current Passions and Wishes
In the book “The Anthropocene Reviewed” by John Green, he indicated that his mentor Amy Krouse Rosenthal once wrote: “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life: Pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”
It seems very simple, but most of us decide to ignore these passions or are even ashamed of sharing them with others.
Write down the things you have been paying attention to lately. Some prompts that could help you are the following:
- Is there an issue that is constantly on your mind? Such as wanting to change your career, or achieving a certain goal?
- Is there a problem in this world that you would want to help to make it better? (the environment, human condition)
- Is there a topic that you discuss often with those close to you? (business idea, a hobby you are extremely passionate about)
Step 2: Identify Current “Pain Points”
Identify what are some barriers that are preventing you from exploring the things you wrote down in step 1.
For example, let’s say you are unhappy with your current career and you want to change it completely. But you are afraid of what your family and friends will think of you, or you don’t know if you could take that decision from a financial standpoint.
Some prompts to help you are the following:
- Am I afraid of something? Will I make someone mad or disappointed by taking that decision?
- Am I afraid of feeling judged or embarrassed? Or that no one will care about it?
- Could something really bad happen if I did take that decision?
- What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best case scenario? And how likely are these scenarios?
- Would someone support me in this journey?
Step 3: What Can You Do About It
This step is completely personal, remember it is your own life with your own terms. Since we are all not going through the same thing, it is hard to give advice that will apply to everyone.
However, we can give you some tips and prompts that can help you make small changes in your life.
The easiest thing we can do to start living for ourselves is adding small things to our day to day instead of making drastic changes. We can do this by focusing on adding more self-care to our routine.
As mentioned earlier, we sometimes can’t make drastic decisions at this moment in time. However, we can make our current life a little better and happier by taking care of ourselves.
Here you can find a list of self-care ideas you can start with.
We often put others’ needs and wants before our own, but it is important that we have boundaries and stand up for ourselves when we are being pushed out of our own lives.
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t be a kind or compassionate person, but it does mean being clear about what you will and won’t do or tolerate in your life.
For example, if people in your life are constantly telling you how you should live your life, try setting boundaries with them or addressing those issues directly.
Small Steps to Live for Yourself
Lastly, write down a few possible steps you can take to achieve your goals and wishes.
If you are lucky and the conditions allow it, you may be able to completely change your life’s path or make big decisions. And that’s such an awesome opportunity. We are here rooting for you.
But for others that may not be possible, so an option is to focus on small steps instead.
Here are some examples that could inspire you in your own journey:
- Career change: maybe you cannot quit your 9-5, but you can see if you can monetize your passion as a side job and dedicate just a few hours a week. Or maybe you can take a few online courses or online certifications.
- Feeling embarrassed: I’m going to give a personal example. English is not my first language, so I have a little bit of an accent when I speak. I was so ashamed of people I grew up with listening to me speak in English. But one day I decided to just do it anyway – It was the only way for me to share my message.
- External validation: For example, a family member or a friend may disagree with a career change because it is “beneath you” or they think you should be doing something else. If your gut feeling and inner voice suggest otherwise, really think if you are making the decision for them or for you.
Summary – Learning to Live For Yourself
It can be hard to prioritize ourselves when we’re so used to satisfying other people’s expectations.
In some cases, we may not be able to make the life decisions we want because there are limitations, and that’s completely understandable and okay. No one can know if it is a good decision to make other than you.
But whether you can make an entire life altering-decision or just include baby steps, the important thing is to live life for you. That can be something as small as including self-care habits such as journaling and working out, to huge changes like moving to another city or changing careers.
Whatever your journey is, please share it in the comments below. We are here to support you.
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As a passionate advocate for well-being, Irene Mejia seamlessly combines the nutrition expertise of a registered dietitian, the fitness knowledge and motivation of a personal trainer, and her experience in mindfulness to guide busy individuals on their journey to a healthier lifestyle.