You’re about to embark on a strange journey into how my brain works and comes to profound reflections on human behavior and the narratives that we tell ourselves are “normal” based on the society in which we live. Most of the time these trains of thought are had while driving. Sometimes while in the shower or listening to a particularly inspiring podcast or audio-book. This particular train of thought? It started with windshield wipers. I know, stay with me here. It started with me driving to work on a very gloomy overcast day and it just had started to rain when I left my house.
About halfway through my 8 minute commute to work the rain drops started falling faster, making much larger splashes all over: primarily on my windshield. I noticed that the delayed setting on my windshield wipers was not quite keeping it as clear as I would want, so I thought to myself:
“I’ll just set it to the next speed up for the wipers. No wait… that car coming closer, how fast are theirs going? I don’t want to look crazy with super fast wipers if everyone else is fine with the slow speed. I would totally be that person that looks wayyy too freaked out about a little rain storm. No, it’s fine. I’ll keep it as i….. OH that car has them going fast, okay, I won’t be the only one.”
I am not kidding. This was the exact thought process I had. I caught myself giving permission based on another person’s windshield wiper speed and immediately giggled at myself. Then I stopped and asked myself three questions:
- “Why was I going to change my preference, a preference that actually made my life easier and more comfortable to live, based on the actions of others? “
- “Seriously Julia, windshield wipers? Do what you damn want, lady. You only have control over your own actions, not others’.”
- “I wonder if other people look at the cars around them to judge how quickly they set their windshield wipers? Do I just care too much?”
Keep in mind, this entire occurrence only took up about 30 seconds of my day. But I have been thinking about it ever since. Why did I look to other cars around me to make a decision that quite literally impacted my own safety and well-being? Just because I didn’t want to look silly? Well now I feel silly. I can’t help but think, how else are we changing our preferences, actions, behaviors, etc. just to “fit in?” At what point do you stop and say to yourself “my preferences are enough of a reason to do this action.” Far too often do we find ourselves looking to others, comparing, bench-marking where we are in life. This is especially true through social media, in the short second when we forget that social media is an expertly curated feed of content that could create, manipulate, and change the truth about an actual situation, lifestyle, or levels of happiness.
Maybe it’s the *perceived fulfillment of someone else’s job, or the *perceived happiness of someone’s relationship. Maybe it’s your neighbor’s garden that is casting a *perceived shadow on the absence of your green thumb, or the *perceived super high salary that everyone else in the same age bracket is making, except you. Let’s address the *perceived appearance of someone’s health that is based entirely on physical appearance, or the *perceived perfect family dynamic and sibling relationships. I annoyingly wrote *perceived before all of those statements because none of those things can be proved based on the evidence provided on social media. They are perceptions made from the content that has been chosen to be shared.
Through the various courses I took in both my undergraduate and graduate careers rooted in sociological and psychological theories, I know that humans have a basic need to “fit in.” Whatever that means. But when we start compromising our own needs and wants, changing our trajectories to fit a mold that we are being shoved into, or desperately trying to appear a certain way, although in our hearts we know it’s not our truth, that is an issue. Like many, throughout my teenage and adult years I have been plagued with varying levels of perfectionism, fueled by the increasing presence of social media. And it has only been until recently that I have reached a place of comfort where I can actually step back and call myself out for worrying about being judged for the speed of my windshield wipers (seriously, I hope this gives you a giggle because I know how silly it sounds).
In my counseling sessions I am continually working on letting go of others’ expectations and external validation and focusing on means of achieving internal validation. Because I consciously think about this topic, typically once a month if not more, I feel like I have been able to be more mindful and cognizant when I need to be pulled back down to earth. Through this post, I hope that you too are able to reflect on an action that highlights room for growth in your behavior and allows you to be a little bit kinder to yourself. Let’s all go at our own speed here people (pun 100% intended).