I used to be a hero. That sounds conceited. But I mean it in the sense that I put everybody else first. I sacrificed for the good of others, and refused to accept help. Many women are brought up this way.
In my mid-forties, I began to learn, and to stop making so many sacrifices.
But I still worried about certain people whom I love. A few days ago, I was venting to Bill about a troubled friend who wanted more and more and more from me, emotionally. But she never reciprocated, and I was tapped out. Yet I felt guilty avoiding her. Bill said:
“Her life isn’t your responsibility.”
How liberating to hear it put that way. I’m not responsible for saving her, fixing her, or changing her. (She is not in any mental or physical danger.) How she lives her life is not only not my responsibility, it’s none of my business.
And that forces a realization: by helping, I was actually trying to change people, but who am I to do that? With maturity, I’ve learned that my advice isn’t always useful or applicable. With maturity, I can finally accept that people change when they’re good and ready, and not before. Hell, that lesson was the whole reason for my last marriage. So I have to let things go.
This is a humbling thing to accept, because it means I’m no longer the hero.
It’s hard to sit back and let people live their own lives. You want to help. You want them to like you or think well of you. You want to think well of yourself. Leaving them alone means you have nothing to feed off of, and it takes a pretty strong ego to let it go. But my message is, it’s freeing.
So what if nobody thinks you’re awesome?
Years ago, I told my boss I was a perfectionist. Like many people who say this, I said it with a bit of pride. He smiled at me and said, “Perfectionists fear criticism.”
Crushed! I was humiliated, but he was right, of course. It takes more guts to be imperfect than perfect, and it takes more guts to be average than non-heroic. Now that I realize this, I’m trying to hang up my cape.
What a relief to let it go.