Steen mug shot


“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” Salvador Dalí

The photos on social media were beautiful — tables of plates overflowing with more food than most could eat, faces of people smiling and happy to be together, some people were traveling to exotic places with beautiful scenery. Was your holiday scene nothing like that? 

Do you feel that you didn’t do enough based on what you’ve seen from others? Maybe you aren’t close to your family, you don’t have the money for such fancy food, or you just don’t have the skills when it comes to cooking a feast or putting together the perfect charcuterie board (a fancy name for a cutting board covered with yummy appetizers of cheese, meat, nuts, and fruits). 

It is easy to get caught up in the thinking of who we are not, but if we approach life as Salvador Dali did, if we celebrate who we are, we might discover that life is more vibrant and fuller of more exquisite joy every single day.

I don’t paint like my mother. I don’t play the guitar like my husband. I don’t read as much as some of my friends, nor cook as well as some others. I don’t do a great job in a lot of areas, but I do listen to people more than some might, take reasonably good photos, and write more letters than many people do. 

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be who we see in other people, don’t we? If you and I are going to wake up each morning and experience the exquisite joy of being ourselves, we have to stop trying to be someone else and stop trying to live for anyone else.

Scroll through your Instagram feed (for those who don’t know, it is a site full of pictures of what other people are doing in life), and you can come away feeling as though you lead a dull life or are something of a failure. Read the brags of other parents on Facebook, and you might find yourself feeling as though you’ve failed your children because they aren’t achieving what others’ kids are or even getting the same opportunities.  

Do you think people are looking at your life and considering how little you are accomplishing in the same way? It is doubtful. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

In the “trying to be someone else” category, we find our old friend/foe fear. Does it bother you when other people achieve goals you do not, when others acquire wealth you have not, or when someone else is just more talented than you in a particular area? Reading the work of 10 experts (doctors), I see that it is fear that drives our negative responses.

Threatened that someone else might look better than we do, we put them down in our conversations with others. We might question how others could afford what they bought, how they made their way to their position, or we might put down the quality of their purchase. If you can hear yourself making those remarks, there’s nothing bad about you; you are merely allowing fear to reign in power over your life.

The only person who needs power over your life is the person reading this — you! Being driven to be the best version of you that you can be might be motivated at times by what you see in others, but you and I should be aware that when negative thinking comes into our minds, it is fear that is telling us who we are must not be enough. That is dangerous thinking.

So, maybe you don’t feel like you fall in the category of living to be someone else, you don’t feel threatened. That’s great. The second part we are addressing is when we find ourselves living for someone else. Because I’m a people pleaser, this part caught my attention. We might be choosing to live this way without even realizing it. We give other people power over us in our effort to please or to not have to be in charge.

For example, when I was a teenager, I was standing in the congregation of our church and two older girls were in the row in front of me. We were singing a hymn I loved, and the two girls turned around and looked at me. From that day forward, I was very self-conscious of my voice. I allowed those girls to define me, a power they neither asked for nor deserved. 

When I say we are living for other people, I am asking you to think of how you let other people define you. For many in our world, it is easier to let someone else think for us than to decide who we are and how we want to be.

If your friend’s comments leave you feeling inferior, you can ditch the friend or change the way you think (and still ditch the friend, if you choose). You get to be you. When someone else tells you what you should be doing, how you should dress, where you should live, what you should like to eat — it’s about their need to exert power and your need to be told what to do. That thinking is not healthy. I want more for you than that.

Every morning, let’s think to ourselves, “What wonderful thing am I going to accomplish today?” You and I will taste that exquisite joy when we walk through the fear, surround ourselves with people who celebrate our uniqueness, and pick up the paintbrush to create our best life.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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