How did you learn to not care what other people think of you?
I smiled. We were talking about my decision to walk away from law and to write. I told her that up to the point when I quit my job at the firm I'd never taken a real risk in my life. I had worked hard. Gotten good grades. Gone to good schools. Checked all those boxes. I told her that I'd always done what was expected of me, what was quintessentially "impressive," what was safe and celebrated.
I told her that it became time. Time to do what I wanted or to at least to try. To walk away.
And I also told her something that was very true. That when I left law, people thought I was a bit nuts and a bit indulgent to abandon the stable and sparkling career upon which I had just embarked for waters so uncertain. Because people did. They smiled. They humored me. They thought I was acting foolish, impetuous, maybe even a bit entitled.
Even my parents.
I can say this now. Because time has passed and things have changed and I know Mom is proud of me. She has told me so. And before Dad died, he conveyed in not so many words that he supported the fact that I wanted to do something that mattered to me, that I was intent on pursuing passion. (He also didn't love lawyers.) Fine. But in the beginning? On that day when I showed up on their doorstep, a sunburned newlywed twenty-six-year old with fire in my eyes and proclaimed that I was going to do it, rip it off like a band-aid, that I was going to write and live my life?
It was not lollipops and smiles and good for you! It was tricky. It was a bit yuck. I remember walking home from my parents' house that night. I remember saying to myself, Today is the day I start living my life without parental approval.
And it was true. That's what I did. I started making decisions for me. But it wasn't easy. It still isn't. Why?
Because I care. And I care deeply. I care what people think of me. I care what my parents think of me. Do I live my life for their approval and assurance? Not exactly. But every time I make a big decision, I think of them, of how they would feel about that thing. I am a big girl now. I have little girls of my own. Dad is gone. Mom is here, but she is no longer the boss of me.
And still. I care profoundly.
I will never stop caring. I will do my best to be independent, to think like an adult, but I will never stop caring.
And so. I said it. To my friend. A friend who is contemplating big change in her own life. I told her the truth.
I will never stop caring. And you might never stop either. But that doesn't mean we should stand still, does it?
And when I said that, and as I write this now, I think of my tiny girls. I think of a day when they are pondering identity and happiness and progress and life and I hope they still care. About what Daddy and I think. But then? Then I hope they do what they want. What they know, and feel, and trust, is right for them.
That's what I hope.
How much does parental approval matter to you? Even if your parent(s) are no longer around, do you contemplate and care what they would think about your life and decisions if they were? Does some part of you hope that your current or future kids always care about what you think?