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Living Your Own Life

“It is better to fail at your own life than to succeed at someone else’s.”
(Andre Gide)

One of the fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves is “Whose life am I living?”

Are you living your own life in accordance with your values, doing what you believe in and following your own vision? If you can honestly say “Yes” in answer to that question, then congratulations! — you are in a very exceptional position.

Most of the human race seems to spend its time trying to fulfil the expectation of other people — or what they imagine the expectations of other people are. We live in accordance with what we think our parents, our teachers, our colleagues, our lovers, our bosses, the government, the experts, even our own children, expect from us. Or we live in rebellion against them. Either way it’s what we think they want that is ruling us.

Since it’s very unlikely that our parents, teachers, colleagues, lovers, bosses, the government, the experts and our children would ever agree for one moment about what we should be doing, it’s not surprising that we have a tendency get confused, harassed and resentful. All these conflicting demands are simply more than we are capable of processing.

So why not forget about trying to please everybody else all of the time, and instead concentrate on living according to our own values all of the time? The clearer we are about what we believe in and what our real values are, the easier it will be to do this. And paradoxically we will probably become far better sons/daughters, pupils, colleagues, lovers, employees, citizens, learners and parents by doing so.


This exercise depends on catching yourself the next time you find yourself thinking “What ought I to be doing now?” You probably won’t find that you have to wait too long for this opportunity — about 30 seconds is my own average!

Realise that the real meaning of this question is “How can I fulfil other people’s expectations of me?”

Once you catch yourself asking this question, let it go and ask yourself a different question instead: “What is the next step in living my life?”

And then keep on asking it!

Reader Comments (7)

Dear Mark,

I agree with you that we need to live our own life. However I also want to be a responsible person. How can be a responsible person and not living other person's life?

April 27, 2007 at 5:12 | Unregistered CommenterRongxin Wang
Dear Rongxin

Living your own life doesn't mean acting entirely selfishly the whole time and ignoring other people. So there is nothing incompatible with being a responsible person and living one's own life.

As you have said, being a responsible person is one of *your* values. The difference is that you are being responsible because it is important to *you*, rather than just because you are constantly being told by your parents, boss, etc, to be responsible.

April 27, 2007 at 8:55 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Dear Mark
I was so pleased to read your article becuse I have recent experience which tells me that everything you have said is true.
What I have learned from taking back my own life is that it enables you to see other people in the right perspective. It is too easy to fall into the trap of living other people's expectations of you instead of your own. When you realise you are able to live your own life quite easily and without conflict, everything just feels "right".
Thank you for pointing out something so easily overlooked but so damaging for a lot of people.
April 27, 2007 at 18:22 | Unregistered Commentercorsadriver49
it will not be a life if you live just for your self...diversity is to live for others .
January 5, 2010 at 6:34 | Unregistered Commenterdanish

If it's one of your values to live for others, then that is fine.
January 6, 2010 at 17:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
You are the rock :)
December 12, 2010 at 21:14 | Unregistered CommenterLithuanian
i am open to advice... but the final decision should be mine... can that be consider as living my own life?
April 4, 2011 at 9:26 | Unregistered Commenterfariza

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