“Don’t settle for a relationship that won’t let you be yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

When it comes to change, people are more apt to do it for others than for themselves. It was no different for me when I morphed myself to be the “right” kind of friend, the “cool” girlfriend, or the “most dependable” employee. In each of those instances other people really liked me, but I didn’t like me very much.

A friend’s snarky attitude made me less happy to be her confidant, even though I forced myself to patiently listen to her rants. I realized too late that the “cool” girlfriend meant the one who never disagreed with her boyfriend or made requests of her own. And the companies that adored my dependability easily forgot those countless overtime hours when it came time to promote or give raises.

It took about 10 years of increasing frustration to realize I was the one making myself unhappy. By putting everyone else’s needs (or perceived needs) ahead of my own, I was turning myself into someone I didn’t even recognize. I worked on my relationship with everyone else while ignoring my relationship with myself.

In 2000, I realized I was simply a patchwork of everyone else’s expectations and needs.

Getting to Know Myself

A divorce and cross-country move helped me start to weave a truer version of myself. In a new city with no friends, I had to create my life all over again. What did I really like to do? How did I want to live? Who did I want to hang out with?

For the first time in my life, I began questioning my preferences with every single thing. From the television shows I watched to the food I ate to the activities I chose, everything was put through a filter:

Does this fit me, or am I trying to please someone else?

It was a revelation to analyze my responses and learn to accept my decisions in spite of the opinions of other people. It was like getting to know myself for the first time at 30.

It’s probably no surprise to you that my life took a definite upswing at that point, but it certainly was to me.

  • When I began trusting my experience and instinct, my career took off.
  • When I thought about what kind of financial situation I wanted, it was easy to create a plan to make it happen.
  • When I demanded a higher quality of friendships, excellent people came into my life.
  • When I spoke honestly and directly about what I wanted in a relationship, I got the man of my dreams.
  • When I decided to make my biggest dream a reality, I actually took the steps to make it happen.

Falling in Love with My Imperfect Self

Today I’m enjoying a relationship with my husband, friends, and family that I only dreamed about before. They know me – honestly – and they still like me. More importantly, I like myself a lot.

It’s been 13 years since my grand awakening, and I’m writing this to you from sunny Mexico. This is the 95th stop on the round-the-world journey I’ve been on with my husband since 2010. My life is fuller and more complete than I ever imagined, and every day is a true expression of who I am.

I have many friends, but there are also people who don’t like me. I’m okay with that now, and it doesn’t cause me to lose sleep or morph my behavior to win their approval.

The most important relationship you’ll ever have in this life is the one with yourself. Being confident in your experience, knowledge, and preferences will allow you to create honest, healthy relationships with the people in your life. You won’t have to remember who to be, because you’ll always be yourself.

And that kind of comfort in your own skin will help you do great things.

Are you working harder to achieve the approval of others than you are the approval of yourself?

Photo by martinak15

Betsy Talbot

Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World. Through their popular books, engaging weekly podcast, and revealing Sunday emails, they share the unconventional wisdom they've learned about living, working, and traveling together since 2010. Find out more about modern love and partnership at Married with Luggage.