When I was seven years old, my church hosted a Halloween carnival complete with a haunted house, face painting, and a fortune teller. I was too afraid to go into the haunted house, but after getting my face painted, I was very eager to hear what the fortune teller had to say about my future. I remember going alone into a little tent, sitting on the floor on a pile of pillows across from the “fortune teller,” and putting my tiny little hand out for her to read. (The fortune teller was a 16-year-old neighbor whom my parents sometimes hired as a babysitter so this didn’t feel as creepy as it probably sounds.)

She took my hand, looked at it, and assured me that I would marry a handsome man, not have to work, have two children (a boy and a girl), and live in a house. I’m sure she said some other things but basically, that’s what was stuck in my head as how my life was “supposed” to be. It was the same overall message I received from friends, family, teachers, boyfriends, and others who influenced me in my life.  

Throughout our lives, ideas about how we’re “supposed” to live, what a good life looks like, and what success looks like are all ingrained into us. They include things like a college education, marriage (and a gorgeous wedding), children, financial success, home ownership, a stable job at a company, annual vacations, promotions, nice cars, nice clothes, retirement, and recognition, approval, and even admiration from neighbors, colleagues, friends, and followers. And doing those things can be great if it’s what you really want. But if it’s not, it can be exhausting.

Fast forward to today and, well, my life definitely has not gone as it was “supposed” to, according to my fortune teller. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I do work, and I live in an apartment, not a house.

Now, let me be honest. I am much happier this way and have often said that I would have turned into an alcoholic housewife who would have been sleeping with the pool boy if I had married someone, not worked, and lived in the suburbs. (People laugh whenever I say that but I really don’t mean it as a joke.)

And even though my life has turned out differently (and better for me) than what it was “supposed” to be, I still had to go through the process of experiencing how it was “supposed” to be, figuring out that that wasn’t right for me, explaining to others that I needed to change course, grieving what would never be, putting all of that behind me, figuring out was WAS right for me, and then going in the direction that I was really supposed to go in. It was the whole “ship is going in the wrong direction, we have to turn it around, and go another way” kind of experience and this process probably took me around four years (and maybe longer if I’m really honest).

This is the process of finding your Gutsy. It’s the process of peeling back the expectations of others and finding out what is really important to you so that you can go and pursue it. Sometimes we are tricked into thinking that doing what others expect is easier, but it’s actually really difficult to live your life by someone else’s rules.  It’s much easier to allow yourself to be who you really are.

It was not easy and I was really uncomfortable, but I also never felt more powerful than when I was letting go of what I had been taught to pursue in favor of creating my own definition of success and finding my own, new way to live my life. And it wasn’t until I got started that my life got really interesting.

Remember, there’s no reason to live your life by others’ rules if those rules aren’t consistent with who you are and what you want. You’ve got to do the hard work to know what it is that you really want, and then you’ve got to stay focused on pursuing it. Because others don’t define how your life is “supposed” to be. YOU define that.

Remember… Others don’t define success for you.  YOU define success for you. THAT’S Gutsy.