My characters have become unintentional catalysts for learning about myself, and the things I need to work on.
I didn’t sit down to write manuscript #1 (or #2, my current work in progress) with the intention of “finding myself” or examining my own neuroses. Writing is about putting the stories in my head down on paper, and I was simply trying to build character traits, flaws, and interesting bits into the characters who make up the story I want to tell.
But life doesn’t usually work out the way we intend or expect.
In my last post, I talked about this simple yet earth-shaking realisation: No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone and you can’t make everyone like you. Humans are fickle, myself included. I can spend my life bending over backwards and apologising for my existence at every turn, but I still won’t win everyone’s approval. So finally, after 33 years, I’ve decided I need to stop. I need to be me—confidently. I need to stop apologising for every move I make. And I need to stop being so anxious to fulfil everyone else’s expectations, and not be afraid to say what I really think.
That’s not to say I’m endorsing narcissism or bad behaviour! But all I can do is try my best, be respectful and kind, try to treat others as I would like to be treated, and the rest is up to them. If I don’t live up to their standards of perfection & acceptability, there’s not a lot I can do about that.
I’ve come to see that I’ve spent – no, WASTED – so much time in my life trying to be what I think other people want, saying “yes” to every request, in the hopes that other people will like me, will approve, will include me, and will not be angry at me. I’ve used up so much energy trying to keep on top of all this that I inevitably lose sight of what makes me happy, let alone what’ll make someone else happy.
My MC has this problem. She didn’t at first – she had a host of other issues that got her in the predicament that incites the plot. But revisions have revealed that, at her core, she’s a people-pleaser. She will never win trying to juggle the approval of everyone she meets. Not just friends and family, but acquaintances, teachers, employers, customer service reps and delivery men. She elevated the opinions of everyone in her life above her own, to the detriment of her self-esteem and her relationships with those people.
I didn’t write this trait into her because I wanted to write about me. I wrote her this way because it’s how her character evolved, based on herself and the situations around her. And afterwards, I realised that’s how I’ve been living most of my life. While researching this topic, I found this: (from Jen Smith’s blog)
…It is a fact of life that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. What you can do is be authentic and do what you feel is right. We all upset others at times. It is inevitable. Sometimes people are jealous; sometimes they don’t like other people being happy or successful and sometimes they may be upset with you and they just don’t know why! You cannot be responsible for other people’s happiness but you sure as hell are responsible for your own. Start being confident about your decisions and what you want to do.
I think it comes down to say what you mean, mean what you say, and if it’s not said with ill intent but respect, then other people can either accept you, or move on. And the ones who stick around are the ones whose opinion you should count as meaningful in your life. (Isn’t that what Hanson’s “MMMbop” was all about, after all? LOL).
But seriously, you can’t ever base your life solely on others opinions. That’s when it becomes approval addiction, and you end up making yourself and the other people unhappy anyhow. I’m responsible for my own happiness, and while I always want to make everyone else happy, that’s just not in my power. I need to be confident about my decisions, communicate more clearly, and then just accept that other people are responsible for their own happiness as much as I am for mine.
Some people just aren’t going to like me for whatever their reasons (which they’re totally entitled to), and that’s fine. This is when I need to stop losing sleep over whether some random person on the street likes me, or the not-so-random person whose standards of excellence I’ll never achieve is happy with me. Tough. That’s life. Next!
And the side note to all this has actually become Important Point #2. I’m realising that both my MC and I need to have this enmeshed into our skulls: Only you are responsible for your own happiness. Others may want you to be happy, and make efforts to help you be happy. But you have the choice in the end, and if you choose to be miserable, grumpy, judgemental, or pessimistic (as we all choose now & again), that’s completely up to you. But we can also choose to be positive, forgiving, hopeful, sympathetic, and so many other, better, things. That’s my goal, anyhow.