Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Would You Cross in the Middle of the Street?

One of my neighbors left the store when I did. I was in a bit of a hurry to get home but didn’t want to seem rude so I walked along with her since it was a short distance. We were in between 2 streets when the traffic light changed for the avenue we had to cross. I knew that at the pace we were going, we wouldn’t get to the corner on time. So I jokingly said, “You’re okay with crossing here, right?”

Wrong! She looked at me with shock and said that you’re supposed to cross at the corner. When I told her everyone crosses wherever they are when the light changes, she looked very disturbed and said, “Not me! I cross at the corner like you’re supposed to.” I told her I had to get home and couldn’t wait for another light and off I went. As I thought about it, I realized she is also pretty uptight about other things. She’s told me that even though we have 5 days leeway, she kills herself to get her rent in on the 1st of the month, since that’s when it’s due. And if something happens that makes her a day late, she feels guilty.

I’ve learned that a rigid adherence to everything exactly as you were told to reflects a rigid outlook on life, which can limit the kind of joy you can have.

I’m not advocating breaking laws indiscriminately. But in NYC, jaywalking is part of our culture. It might not be a good thing elsewhere but everyone jaywalks here. This is a walking city and we walk where there are no cars. To get anywhere fast one must cross when the light allows. When I crossed in the middle after my neighbor refused to, not one car came. It was easy to cross. Sometimes I do dodge cars but I’m used to it and it’s rarely a problem.

I later asked the neighbor if she was nervous about crossing in the middle. “Oh no” she said and knew it was pretty safe. She’s a bit older than me so she’s been in NYC for a long time, and is used to seeing everyone cross when they can. She also waits for the light to turn green, even when no cars are coming and others are going across. She said she crosses at corners with green lights because that’s what you’re “supposed to” do.

“Supposed to” beliefs can get you into patterns that make you miss out on good stuff and get stuck in behavior that doesn’t serve you best.

Again, I don’t advocate being a rebel and breaking laws as a lifestyle. But you don’t always need a green light to do something you want to do. I discovered my neighbor is scared of a lot of things. Her head is filled with “supposed to’s” and “not supposed to’s.” Those kinds of beliefs reinforced my being a DoorMat for so many years. I was “supposed to” be nice to everyone, even at my own expense. I was “supposed to” hold my anger in and not protest poor behavior directed at me.

When you believe that you’re not “supposed to” to do a lot of things, your world can get smaller than it should be.

When years ago my students dared me to make a rap record, saying a white woman couldn’t rap, I was so starved for a creative endeavor that I became determined to prove them wrong. I didn’t want the kids to grow up thinking your color or sex could stop you. The only thing that can stop you is YOU!  So I learned how to rap, became the first white female rapper, and ended up starting a record label. Doing it was very organic. If I’d tried to plan in advance, I’d probably have decided that I wasn’t “supposed to” make a rap record. But I did! And it began the foundation of my better self-esteem, since I succeeded.

While you don’t have to cross in the middle of the street, become aware of things you do simply because you learned that you’re not “supposed to.” Look for one small rule to not take so literally. Take a small risk. Try something new. If I hadn’t taken the dare to rap I’d probably still be an unhappy DoorMat. Doing it triggered my courage to reinvent myself. Ask yourself who says you’re not “supposed to” do what it is you’d like to do.

Trying to do everything according to rules and “supposed to’s” limit your vision about what you’re capable of doing. In a way, it’s seeking perfection—striving to be a good girl or guy. I’ve learned that breaking rules is fun, especially when they were made by people who didn’t have my best interest or enjoyment of life in mind. Do something just a little left of center for your typical behavior today. It can loosen you up to discovering a new way of life!
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  • http://kjforce.wordpress.com kjforce

    I couldn’t agree with you more..LOVE the article…some of us are our own worst enemy when it comes to putting limits on ourselves. I choose to live outside the box of life..so I cross the street,wear striped and polka dots (together) and am the first to ask WHY ? (when someone poses a question)…it’s not being controversial…it’s me choosing to live as I want..in the garedn of weeds…
    weed by choice..

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment viqueen

    Well said! I’ve spent a lot of years unlearning a lot of well-meaning “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. Asking why has taught me to stay open, flexible, and feeds my creative pursuits. It doesn’t guarantee an easy path but it teaches me so much more.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Daylle Deanna Schwartz

    Thanks to both of you! Life is so much better when it’s on YOUR terms, not those set by others.

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