Friday, July 31, 2015

Standing strong when you have to stand alone

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life, but define yourself.” 
― Harvey Fierstein

If you have been following me for a while then you know that I am a vegan. Being a vegan is a very important part of who I am. It influences what I eat, where I shop, and what forms of entertainment that I follow. People always ask me what the hardest part of being a vegan is. Is it the food? Not being able to wear leather? Do you miss zoos? What most people are surprised to find out is that dealing with other people is the hardest part of being a vegan. Standing alone in a room full of meat eaters. Staying calm and confident while I sometimes had to defend myself and my beliefs against people who either I expected to support me or from complete strangers who feel that my ordering a veggie burger was somehow a personal attack against them.

If you every made the decision to go against the grain then you probably have some experience with this. You made a decision to do something, ANYTHING, different and to some people it’s as though you have renounced your religion. The thing is, if you want to make a change in your life you are going to have to get comfortable with standing alone.

Right now people know you by whom you always been. For the majority of my life I have been the “nice” one. The one who never put up a fight, the one who never spoke her mind, the one who was worried soooooo much about what other people thought that she kept quiet to make them feel better. That person was unhappy because she felt like no one really knew her. She felt like she was surrounded by people who didn’t really love her. And how could they? She never really let them know her. My first act of rebellion came when I became vegan. I final decided to completely overhaul my life choices to live in a way that was truly aligned with my beliefs. And you know what happened? I spent a lot of time standing alone. Sure I had some people support me, but in the end the decision to stop using animals was MY decision and I had to stand on my own two feet and take off the mask of the person who I was trying to be. Friends, family, and strangers made fun of me. They thought that my decision wouldn’t last. They criticized my choices. At times I tried to shove my decisions down their throat. At times I got so angry because I wanted them, no I needed them to support me. I needed their support to validate my choice.

I have been vegan for 6 years now and let’s just say I don’t need anyone’s support to know that I am living the best life for me. You want to know what’s interesting? Because I stopped seeking out the approval of others I have much more support than I ever had. And because I have been through the firing squad of judgement, I am no longer afraid to speak up for myself.

So how does that happen? How do you stand strong even if you have to stand alone? Get comfortable with discomfort. Who you are at this moment is comfortable not only to you but to those around you. People expect you to act a certain way. Humans are creatures of habit and you have to understand that when you make the decision to do something different you are going to upset status quo. So sit with the discomfort. Don’t use the feeling of fear to run back to your safe space. One way to get comfortable with discomfort is to try something new. Go to the movies alone. Learn a new language or a new dance. Do something……ANYTHING new and you will realize that, “Oh my goodness what the fuck am I doing” feeling isn’t so bad. You won’t die from butterflies in your stomach and doing something new won't kill you.

You also have to understand that people’s critique of you is rarely about you and it’s mostly about them. Your choice to be different is probably highlighting the fact that they are not (look at my Psychology degree being put to good use) and its easier to lash outwards than it is to look inwards. It’s okay. If they love you and truly care about you, then they will come around. They will respect your courage to go after what you want and you never know, they could one day be asking you to help them make some positive changes in their life. 

Mahatma Ghandhi is quoted as saying, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Notice how the first 3 steps have you standing alone, but it is worth it for the last one. 

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