The story of how I went from feeling like a victim of life to becoming brave enough to make my choices and stand by them.
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I’m the oldest of three siblings and grew up to be a woman who was everything my parents wanted me to be, so much so that if they could design a child with their preferred characteristics, I would have most if not all of them.
Up until the age of 22, I pretty much followed the path they expected me to. I lived life by the book, ticked boxes they told me to and did my best to be the daughter they desired.
Life was kind to me and I got the opportunity to study and live in London at 23 years of age. That is when I first discovered that the person I had grown up to be and the one I wanted to be might be two different people. But I continued ticking boxes with the firm belief that life would work out perfectly because that’s what I had been conditioned to believe.
However, during my stay in London, something began to change. I started to see that underneath the picture-perfect life I was living, I wasn’t happy and I couldn’t tell why. I had a job that paid well, a boyfriend who loved me, friends who cared about me, a home in a city that people thronged from all over the world to see, and enough money to go on holidays. Yet something wasn’t right and I had little idea how to figure it out.
Then due to a series of events, everything including my job, friends, relationship and the life I had come to know disappeared right in front of my eyes. I had to return to New Delhi to start afresh.
I could not have been more broken at the time. The identity I had built for myself (which was based on my job, friends, relationship, the size of my bank account etc) had been smashed to the ground.
At that point, I did not know anymore who I was, what I wanted from life or where I could go. I was as lost as one could be in addition to being in more pain than I had ever known before. I was suffering from depression and unaware of it.
As I tried to pick up my life’s pieces and heal, I began to wonder did I wish to live my life the way I had so far? If it didn’t make me happy, was any of it worth it?
I started on a journey that included questioning most things I had been taught and tried to imagine the life I would want to live. The process of examining and challenging my very basics was a painful one. I needed clarity to move forward but it wasn’t going to be an easy find.
My parents expected better of me and were disappointed although they tried not to show it. To be fair to them, they did not know I was suffering from depression. Neither did anyone else.
I started to explore hobbies I hadn’t before and spend time doing things I hadn’t for years. This included working out, reading, writing, meditating and painting.
Over time a new identity began to shape up for me. I started to become a new person, one that I liked and who did things that made me happy.
My parents wanted me to settle down and the pressure to get married went up as I approached 30. Everyone in the extended family and friend circle and acquaintances we met once a year wanted to know when I would be walking down the aisle. It wasn’t important what I wanted because I had already crossed ‘the right age’ for a woman to find a good match for herself.
For the longest time, my life’s path had been defined for me. I had been ‘permitted’ to go to London to study but that didn’t mean I could do whatever I liked. The way I could dress, the kind of people I could make friends with, the amount of time I could spend having fun, the time I needed to get back home by, whether or not I could drink and smoke, pretty much everything I could do or could not do had been defined by rules as is the case for many women.
Marriage and children were just steps down the same path that I was expected to walk.
My refusal to get married and a desire to begin exploring a new path professionally late in my twenties was met with disdain and anger. It was pointed out to me that I was not only making big mistakes but setting a wrong example for my siblings. And if that wasn’t enough, the burden of having an unmarried daughter at home was causing much mental and emotional stress to my parents.
That made me think-
Did anyone ever wonder about the mental and emotional stress I went through because of the lack of freedom to live life the way I wanted to? Did anyone ever wonder how I felt when everything I could do was handed to me in a rulebook without ever consulting me? Did anyone ever wonder how caged I felt to be living a life that I could not relate to? Did anyone ever wonder if the path that had been set out for me makes me happy or want to run away to a world where I could be myself without needing people’s approval? Was my life meant for ME or for OTHERS?
I carried the burden of my parents’ and society’s expectations on my shoulders for a long time, perhaps still do to an extent but as I grew older, I realised something.
I had tried very hard for very long to follow the rulebook, get everything right, fulfil my parents’ expectations and find happiness in a life I hadn’t designed for myself. As a result, I looked at myself as a victim of life, of the culture I grew up in, the home I was born into and of circumstances.
But can playing victim EVER engender meaningful change?
It cannot. If I truly wanted to live the life I desired, I would have to take responsibility and own every bit of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. I cannot change the cards I’ve been dealt and crying over them would only make life more suffocating.
I had to start making my own choices however frightening that felt and over time, I have.
I haven’t figured out my whole life yet and at times it does scare me but much has changed for the better.
I’m much happier today than I was when I had everything I was told to aspire for. I have a purpose and I spend a good amount of time trying to help people. I am walking a path that scares the shit out of me but also excites me as rare things have in the past. Neither do I believe I am a victim of life nor do I feel that life has been unfair to me any longer. I’m here to play with the cards I’ve been dealt and I’m playing to win.
Even today I’m judged and patronised constantly and told that the desire to live life my way will leave me full of regret and guilt one day, and the sensible thing to do is to conform to the wisdom of this society.
Being an independent woman (perhaps a man too but I can only speak for myself) with a mind of her own is hard even in the 21st century. You have to be willing to fall flat on your face and hear ‘we told you so’ when you do. You have to be willing to face your fears every day and battle it out alone because women who make their own choices are still labelled arrogant and full of themselves.
But guess what? After years of being lost and wondering about my place in the world, I’ve discovered much about me and what I’m here to do. I may not know how life will pan out but I do know what I will make of it because I am working on those dreams every day.
The process of self-discovery (knowing who you are, who you want to be, how you can contribute to the world, and how far you are willing to go to fulfil your dreams) is very, very hard and I will not delude into thinking it is fun and happens on its own. It does not. You have to want it and work hard for it but what you receive after going through the process is a bigger reward than everything you experience to get to that point.
To live a life that feels true to you, makes you want to wake up and work on your dreams even if no one else believes in you, you have to understand:
You are NOT a victim of life.
A lot of people have it much better than you and many have it a lot worse. Irrespective of which step of the ladder you find yourself on, you can make choices that will either keep you where you are or help you move forward.
YOU are the ONLY person who can empower yourself.
Instead of comparing yourself with others, blaming someone or something for your imperfect life and spending time daydreaming, find the COURAGE to make tough choices, pay the price for them and reap rewards that come as a consequence.
Courage is not found in a day either but if you keep trying, you will. It took me many years to fight my fears, stand up for myself, reject ‘the wisdom’ of the society I was born into, and trust my instincts.
You can do it too but first, you must stop thinking of yourself as a victim because YOU ARE NOT ONE.
You are who you think you are. Whether that’s going to be a victim or a winner, the choice is YOURS.