Whose Life Are You Living?

July 20, 2015

Whose life are you living?

David Whyte asks the question, “Would you rather fail at your life than be successful at living out someone else’s life successfully?”

If you find yourself living out the life your parents wanted you to live, it is time to ask yourself Whyte’s question. The process of living out someone else’s life begins so slowly. Your dad, mom, sibling, or close friend plays or played hockey, and before you even know there is such a concept of choice and free will you are playing hockey. Or skiing, dancing, debating, or playing violin.

You mistake your practice for talent or genuine interest. And you keep taking cues about how to proceed forward in high school and beyond. You are teed up to get into Harvard, Yale, or a parent’s alma mater.  Or you find yourself on their path for you into the military, law, or medicine. Those around you believe you have always known what you wanted to do. They may even be envious of such certainty at so young an age. What a shock it would be to them to discover that you’re living out a scripted narrative–written for you by those who love you and never listened closely enough to understand they were only hearing their own dreams for you and not yours.

When we’re young, we’re impressionable, but the appeal of following a clearly defined path doesn’t end in adolescence. We can be influenced by a college professor, mentor, icon, or friend at any age. By feigning or gaining interest in something that someone else loves, we can become closer to that person. And we may succeed at living the life they live or hoped to live. But we’re not living our own lives.

When you follow someone else’s path, it can be difficult to get off. And you can begin to lose yourself.

Oftentimes you know when this is happening because of the voice in your head that wonders, “How did I get here?” You don’t recognize the person you have become, and you feel not only an emptiness, but a confusion over values and what to do–unless you receive guidance from others.

If you feel like you’re not really living your life, or you want to be reassured that you are truly living your life, give the following questions some thought:

1. What is it you love?

2. What drives you?

3. What are you passionate about?

Now try to get at the root of these loves, drives, and passions. Are they genuinely yours, and, if so, why? Are some of these loves, drives, and passions overly motivated by others’ dreams (lived or failed)?

If you feel like you’re not really living your life, ask yourself this:

What would it take to reach escape velocity to break orbit from the gravitational pull of your established life?

It’s never too late to live your own life. It’s better to fail at living your life than to succeed at living someone else’s.

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