you don’t need to explain yourself

This title is from a fortune cookie I opened last night at Charlie Chow’s Dragon Grill. It’s a pretty great establishment. They have three different types of noodles and they’ll even crack an egg in your stir fry upon request.

I was thinking about how some people come into the world questioning everything. The stereotypical rebellious teenage kid: someone who acts out, rejects the status quo, refuses to care what other people think. The stuff of parental nightmares, basically.

I was the opposite: a weird, sensitive kid, deeply compelled to fear and respect and please authority. My parents, my teachers and leaders, my friends’ parents. I didn’t need much discipline. There was nothing worse for me than just disappointing someone I looked up to. I’d break down when facing a teacher with missing homework assignments, spend weeks in a silent guilty depression when a church leader reprimanded me for being chatty, beat myself up over A-minus grades. I rarely pushed boundaries on any of the rules and expectations put on me.

And it was great for me. I was a good kid. “The system” worked like a well-oiled machine for me. Good grades, good college, good job, good habits, good functioning member of society. I am thankful for all of this and thankful for my upbringing in every way.

But I’ve noticed something interesting as I’ve grown up. All those things that made me a “good kid” are still part of my adult self, and it turns out they’re some of my worst qualities now. I’m a serial people-pleaser. No matter how capable I’ve grown to be, still I stress out over how I will frame my intentions and justify my choices so that the “grown-ups of the world” will approve of everything I do. I think too much about what other people believe is right and good rather than what I believe is right and good, and it seeps into almost every aspect of my decision-making.

As an adult, I find myself wanting and trying to be a little more like the rebellious teenager. Maybe he turned into a critically-thinking adult with a strong sense of identity and integrity. He lives life on his own terms. He does what’s right because he knows what’s right and he deeply believes in it, not because it’s expected of him by some third party. It seems like a good way to live.

I guess I just really liked this fortune cookie. It was a good reminder. You don’t always need to explain or justify yourself. The main person who has to live with the consequences of your decisions is you, assuming you don’t choose to directly harm — or make yourself dependent on — someone else. You are allowed to do things because you feel good and right about them deep in your core. Nobody else has to understand, and you don’t have to make anybody else understand, and that’s okay.

I’ve worked a lot lately to internalize this and let it influence my actions. It gives me confidence. It makes living better.

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