The Gift of Permission

December 10, 2010

Most of us are thinking of what we and our loved ones would like as gifts this holiday season. Along with the wish lists we generally have, what about a gift we can give ourselves: the gift of permission? Here are three things we should give ourselves permission to do:

Permission to have the life you want
Do you, deep down, believe you deserve the life you want? If you don’t, your dream life will never become real. Women in particular often put others’ needs first, and sacrifice their own goals and dreams in favor of helping others achieve theirs. This is not all bad, of course. Many of us find deep satisfaction in helping others. It becomes a problem when you always sacrifice your own dreams and wishes in favor of others’ and never or rarely have a chance to pursue your own passions and pleasures.

Joy Chudacoff writes in “Smart Women Give Themselves Permission,” “There comes a time when you will begin to feel a calling to create more of what you prefer in your own life. It does not mean that you do not love and care for all of those people who mean so much to you. It’s a signal that the time has come for you to embrace more of who you uniquely are.”

This is definitely an issue for me: why do I “deserve” to have my dreams come true—owning my own horse, working as a freelancer (i.e., often getting paid more in satisfaction than in money), simply having what I have in my life? I feel guilty because I have the time and resources to pursue the life of my dreams, and then I begin to dissipate my energy to such an extent that I no longer do have the time and resources to do what I want. I realize I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me it’s OK to have the life I want. The truth is, I deserve the life I want just as much as—not more than, not less than—any other human being does. And so do you.

Permission to be imperfect
I’m not saying you consciously think you have to be “perfect,” but I’ll bet you think you should be better. We could all be “better” than we are—it’s part of the human condition to be imperfect. If you’re like me, you can probably name 25 things you wish were different about you and your life. Stop worrying over that and feeling guilty about it and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Admit your flaws, then realize that’s just how it is right now. If it’s truly something that must be changed, then commit to changing, but refuse to wallow in the feeling that somehow you should have already overcome this problem and you’re a bad person for not having done so. (Channel Popeye by saying, “I yam what I yam.”)

Permission to try and succeed…or to try and fail
This is one of my biggest issues. When I have a big, hairy goal or project in mind, I often become paralyzed, equally worried about succeeding or failing! If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own. Safer and more comfortable just to do nothing.

And what if trying for your big, hairy goal causes someone in your life discomfort or inconvenience? That may be true. How often does someone else’s important goal cause you discomfort or inconvenience? How do you feel about that? Probably you feel that’s OK, within reason, if the other person’s activity or achievement is important enough to them. (I also refer you back to my first point.)

Regardless of success or failure, you should give yourself permission to try. Either outcome is better than not making the attempt.

So this is what we’re going to do. I give you permission to follow your dreams, to learn something new, to succeed, to do something badly, to be imperfect. And you do the same for me. But truthfully, we don’t really need each other’s permission, do we?

What would you do if you had “permission”?

Seen on a store window in New Orleans

“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
--Grace Murray Hopper

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  1. "If I fail, I’ll be embarrassed and disappointed in myself. If I succeed, people might expect more of me and then I could fail their expectations—or my own". Oh, that one rang a bell. So ulitmately it's still about failing or fearing failure. I'll have to work on this as I don't want to live my life worried about failure!

    My trouble comes in that my dreams and my husband's don't always match. Since he's always been the breadwinner and the more powerful of the two of us, he tends to win. Mostly I am doing what I want. It's more about where we live and what we buy where I am restricted and when you are a married couple you just don't say you will leave because you don't want to live where you are. I know he'd truly be unhappy living where I'd like to so I take that into account. Someday though, I hope to move. There is always a give and take in life.

  2. What a wonderfully, thought-provoking post! I've had words like sustainable, resilience and boldness running though my mind of late. I've found that I don't often ask permission anymore.

    Where I stumble is when I find myself waiting for affirmation or rescue from an outside source. It's nice to have have someone around to encourage me and cheer me on. As for rescue, that would be nice too, but I've come to realize if I need rescuing, I'd better get busy! At the end of each and every day, it comes down to each decision we make and each thought we think.

    Thanks for the powerful reminder we don't need permission or affirmation or rescue from anyone outside ourselves.

  3. Timaree--I think I know exactly what you mean about your dreams and your husband's not always matching. We sometimes have the same situation. When you love someone and are committed to them, you must make compromises. Hopefully those compromises run both ways. It would be so great if both people in a marriage could be thinking, "I want to help you make your dreams come true!" (And I want to say that my husband has been especially good about my *very expensive* horse dream--thanks, Honey!)

    I also think that "homemakers" should be careful not to undervalue what they contribute to family life. My husband has mostly been the primary breadwinner during our married life (though not 100% of the time!), but he could not have done what he did outside the home without my support and work inside the home.

  4. Laure--We all have our own issues with accomplishment and living our dream lives, don't we? You might have a thought-provoking blog post right there yourself! It's hard to find the balance of pushing and letting things unfold, of going for it and of waiting in an appropriate way.

  5. Kathy - your blog posts are always so well thought out, well written, and thought provoking, and this one is one of your best.

    All of life is a balance - balancing our own wants and needs with those of our loved ones. How much do we compromise and how "selfish" can we be (and I put selfish in quotes because I don't mean that in a bad way, but in a self preservation kind of way). I'm extremely fortunate that in most things, my husband's and my goals are compatible (maybe not the same, but at least not conflicting).

    I probably struggle the most with perfectionism - but I've been working on letting go of that for a long time. I think I'm getting better.

    Thanks for another great post.

  6. Cheryl--I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. I agree--balance is very important. A swing too far in one direction is likely to be followed by a swing in the opposite direction--and that makes for a wild, chaotic ride through life. Some people thrive on this, but not me!