Who Decides Your Life Course?

Recently, Oprah said most people, especially women, lead their lives following a course that is not their own.

No kidding.

I mean, you’ve noticed, right? How a woman will partner up with a guy, and pretty soon she sounds like him. Maybe even looks like him, body-wise. She used to be thin, now she’s not. She used to be debt-free, now she’s a spendthrift. Used to be politically apathetic, but now she’s a passionate partisan.

This phenomenon fascinates me. I want to write a book about it, a novel of four women who, over the course of a summer all realize they’ve fallen victim to this. I don’t really want to write about a younger woman – I figure we all did it when in our teens and twenties, but then you start to figure out who you are and what you need, and theoretically, you don’t become the clone anymore. No, the people who interest me are the older women who are still stuck in this mire, whether they know it or not, and whether they change or not.

Of course, this is only a problem if it’s a problem. Sometimes people influence each other for the better. In some ways, I’m my husband’s mini-me, but that’s more a case of God shaking her head in despair and sending me a car salesman, due to the fact that I desperately needed somebody to show me how not to be such a doormat and martyr. But I’m not talking about the good influencers, and neither was Oprah. She said,

Unless you find a course that is truly your own, you betray yourself, and then you’re no different than the person who betrayed or hurt you.

Sometimes pain is sweet. The fact that we’re not “allowed” to clean up the garage, because he insists on things being a certain way, means we get license to complain without actually having to do anything about it. Not taking the reins is a relief, sometimes. So is the feeling of being limited by somebody else – it’s how a lot of us were raised, right? We’re told to be obedient, follow the rules, let the other person go first, give up our seat, be flexible. It becomes a habit. Pretty soon you’re afraid to take the reins, but it’s okay – you’re comfortable with it. Resentful, but comfortable.

Let me ask you this: What if you had no limitations? What if you could do, create, live, or be exactly what you wanted in the days, weeks, months, years to come? What goals would be on your list, and how fantastic would it be to realize those goals? Now, ask yourself what is standing in your way, and what can you do, if anything, to get around it? If you’re tempted to shrug and say, “Nothing,” I have a titillating question for you: are you happier with that answer than with the alternative?


  1. says

    Interesting … a colleague said to me the other day — do what makes you happy. I said happy is such a strong word. I think for a lot of us being content feels good. The big grab for happy might fail, or you might find it doesn’t make you happy after all, and then you’ve quite possibly lost contentment.

  2. dhaupt3 says

    Okay, I’ve finally put my limitations away and am now living somewhere with trade winds blowing through my open windows, have found my hubby a great hobby so I have enough time alone not to drown him in the ocean and spend my mornings sipping coffee and my evenings sipping cheap white wine while reading, reviewing, blogging, moderating and keeping up with all my favorite authors, bloggers and e-friends all over the world. That leaves my afternoons free to shop, have lunch at a local bistro and people watch.
    Sound like fun?
    Lynne I’ve had so much fun with this question, it’s kept it’s claws in me for a couple of days and isn’t that the best applause to you for making each of us do so.
    I always look forward to your comments and your articles and am constantly reminded that even though our “roads” may never intersect I’m so glad I got to e-know you.

    • says

      The same here, Deb! I wish we could see each other for morning coffee or lunches but at least I know you are out there in cyberspace. I love your imagery BTW.
      The question has haunted me because I was raised to accept the iron hand of others. One day I realized I was hiding behind my restrictions, and I also realized that freeing myself of those restrictions would require me to do something with the resulting freedom.
      Now I’m married to a guy who truly places no restrictions on me, and that means I have to be responsible for pursuing my own dreams! Or shutting up! A whole new way of looking at things.
      Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. says

    I’m not sure how to phrase this in a non-inflammatory way. Please know that it’s just a thought, not a judgment. To wit, OWN is one of the pre-sets on my satellite radio. In fact, the following thought occurred to me when I was listening to her interview with Eckhart Tolle the other morning.

    That said, Oprah owes a great deal of her success to the women who are following the course she has set for them and which she seems to have based very much on the course that Maya Angelou set for her.

    Both are admirable women who have led extraordinary lives, but to read books or buy certain products or eat certain foods or believe certain things because Oprah does is not following one’s own course. Or maybe it is.

    I’m just thinking out loud. Thanks for letting me do that.

    • says

      Hey, Hippie, we all benefit from your thinking out loud. Glad you did. I think Oprah is amazing in a lot of ways, but she’s just one voice. I quote her because she’s an easy cultural reference point. I’m a little lazy that way.

  4. says

    Lynne I think society as a whole has been allowed to rob many people, men and women alike, of who they really are, and the God given passion within each. St. Irenaeous is quoted as saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive…” I don’t think being a wife, mother, grandmother, career person, athlete, writer, painter, etc is the whole of who we truly are, only the parts. And what makes us fully alive is when we’re willing to take a chance and discover the rest.

  5. says

    Fascinating post once again, Lynne. Sadly, I too have noticed this, but it’s not only women who give up their “selves” — men do it also, though perhaps to a lesser degree. Do they quit being themselves to appease a stronger-willed, more vocal partner? Or do they simply take the road of least resistance? Whatever, it diminishes the entire human race when even one of us trades our individuality and creativity for sameness and acquiescence. You’re onto a splendid idea for a book — I can see lots of possibilities for it!

    • says

      Thanks, Debbie! I want to call it Stockholm Summer (after Stockholm Syndrome). And yes, men do it too, no question. Sometimes for the good. Like, when I met Bill, he was living as if the concept of cholesterol, transfats, etc. hadn’t yet been invented. So I’ve influenced him in a small way for the better!

  6. says

    Wow Lynn, that’s a lot to think about. I’ve been married for 35 years, and yes while it’s a life sentence :) I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Yes there were trying times, yes there were times I gave in, but I never gave up my own identity even through the years of being Erin’s mom, or Bill’s wife.
    Now for your titillating question, and it’s a good one. But it’s so out of my realm of thinking that I’ll have to give it a lot of thought. But also I want to say that however limited my existence is I’m happy in it, surrounded by my limited thinking spouse, my way out there family and my very talented and keeps my young daughter.
    Thanks for making me put my thinking cap on when all I wanted to do today was check how many minuets per pound do I cook my Turkey.

    • says

      Deb, your comment made me laugh out loud! Isn’t that the truth, that we start out looking for one simple thing on the web and then we’re down the rabbit hole. But you sound like you’ve got things pretty much figured out. You might be one of those people who isn’t screwed up, in which case, felicitations and congrats! Nothing wrong with being happy!

  7. says

    This post made me feel uncomfortable. It hit me where I live…. and yet in this world of “expendability” it’s also important to make allowances to get along with your pack. The question is, “Where is the balance?” I haven’t found it.

    • says

      Nanci, that’s the question. I’ve learned to ask myself, often and loudly, (and then I stand there, arms crossed, waiting for myself to answer) “What do YOU want?” Sometimes I get in such a rut of going along to get along, that the question is jarring in that I don’t know the answer!

  8. says

    This was a fascinating post for me, today, Lynne. My post today is about betrayal and how it is affecting my life. I know that no matter how bad that betrayal is, I will go forward and let it somehow free me. Just writing about it has been somewhat cathartic. I was a counselor for women and I helped them move on and free themselves, yet I have not done so in many aspects. Thanks for this.


  9. says

    Fascinating exploration of influence and the need to take some action of your own. As for having a plan for living with no limitations, I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m so accustomed to making do with what is, that I don’t believe that I ever think that way. Limits are everywhere, so I adapt. But maybe I’m really just allowing myself to be influenced by others. Interesting.

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