A checklist is defined as a list of required items that need to be completed. For most of my life, I have been comparing myself to a checklist that I did not create. My checklist included some typical elements that you might expect and that I relished completing. However, my checklist also had elements that didn't leave much room for creativity and deviation. My list included going to college, getting a job, getting married and having kids. It also included details on how I was supposed to dress and where I was supposed to shop and how many friends I should have. It specified what I was supposed to do to be a good mother, how my house was supposed to be decorated and how much money I was supposed to make. And it even included what I was supposed to weigh and what foods I was supposed to eat. It was an extensive list. I have always been a conscientious person who wanted to do what was expected of me. I took my checklist to heart and worked diligently to complete it's challenges. On paper, everything was going according to plan. Until one day, I realized that while I was doing a good job at completing everything on the checklist, I was not enjoying my day to day life. Things felt hollow, like something was missing. I wondered what was wrong with me. Of course it must be me, I figured. I must not be a very interesting person, I assumed. I'll need to try harder. What I didn't realize is that I had never questioned why I was doing what I was doing and whether I even wanted to do it or not. I was trying to keep up with the Joneses without regard for whether I even wanted what they wanted.
The first time it occurred to me to question the validity of the checklist came when I learned that there was something called "diet culture" and that I had bought into it - hook, line and sinker. I never knew that I was processing everything in my life through this diet culture filter. Diet culture told me what weight to put on my checklist and how many times I should workout during the week (to look good of course, not because it's good for you). Diet culture told me what I should eat and how much. Diet culture also taught me I was supposed to be embarrassed and ashamed and I wouldn't be loved or respected if my weight didn't fit the societal norm (i.e. the checklist).
Soon I realized that diet culture was a microcosm of a much bigger and more troubling picture. Our entire culture is built upon shaming people into feeling like they need to look and behave like everyone else in all areas of their lives. It's been shocking and painful to awaken and realize that the world is trying to turn us into Stepford wives while it promises to make us into our best selves. So our best selves all look the same and live life the same way? It feels like we have all been slipped a roofee in our drinks and someone has taken away our power to make decisions on our own behalf. How had I not seen this? How did I not know I was being manipulated to feel the need to buy beauty products that would fix my "problem areas". How did I not see how our culture squelches individuality? How did not I not see dieting as the internalized oppression that it was?
Once I saw this, I started to take back my life. I stopped dieting. I stopped talking to myself negatively and judging everything I did as good or bad. I stopped reading People magazine. I stopped comparing myself to my friends and neighbors. Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt, we all know comparison is the thief of joy. I noticed gossip for the insidiousness that it is when it crept up around me and I changed the subject every chance I got. What right does anyone have to judge or comment on anyone else's life? I changed who I followed on social media, I stopped looking at my Facebook feed and assuming that all the shiny happy people had better lives than I did. I realized there was nothing to be fixed in my life because I was not broken. The way I was taught to look at the world is what was broken.
Newsflash - the checklist that defines the societal norm is bullshit. All of it. There is no one way any of us should live our lives. We can't get this life living thing wrong. Our biggest failures are often our biggest lessons. Ultimately, we are here to discover the beat of our own drum, even if it is messy and looks nothing like anyone else's experience. Success can be defined in an infinite number of ways, not the few narrow ways our checklist suggests. The true goal is to follow your unique path and see where it takes you and to make room at the table for both the highs and the lows that will ensue. Trying to make everything in your life look nice and neat and perfect is soul sucking and frustrating and so worrisome! In the end, there is no extra credit given for neatness.
If you can relate to this, I suggest you stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. How are you trying to live up to a checklist that you did not create? How are you trapping yourself and striving to achieve something you may not even care about? What feels like a "should" every time that you think about it and creates a knot of tension in your belly? What things in your life make you worried because they don't seem to fit the "norm"? Many of us have a high level of stress in our lives and are chasing new ways to reduce the stress. I suggest we go to the root of the problem and recognize it's the checklist that is causing the stress. It's time to toss it out and challenge what we keep telling ourselves that we need to achieve.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. - Joseph Campbell
Create your own checklist for how you want your life to look and taste and feel and smell. What brings you joy and satisfaction? What makes you smile and feel good? Try to control less. Be more curious. Cultivate playfulness. Become aware of your desires and preferences. Explore and experiment. Let go of the worry and the doubt. Be willing to be different. Be willing to fail and fail big. No matter how much you try and control things - life is going to continue to happen and it seems to me that it would be much more enjoyable to invite it in from a place of wonder than to try and keep it out from a place of fear. And most importantly, when you don't know what to do or how to proceed, seek guidance and trust the advice from the only one who really knows the answer. You.