As I approach 30, I’m realizing how much I’ve changed since I began my journey into adulthood at 18. The nervous, timid, fearful girl has grown into a fearsome woman, and that’s no accident. I’ve spent my 20s doing the hard work of dismantling limiting beliefs and other self-imposed obstacles that kept me from being who I wanted to be.
In this article, I’ll explore how I was getting in my own way and how I finally learned to be the happy, fulfilled person that I am now.
6 Ways I Made Myself Unhappy
First of all, the number one tool I have at my disposal for working on myself is honest self-reflection. None of these realizations or growth could happen if I was unwilling to look inward with honest eyes. Sometimes this happened through journaling, late-night conversations with Jon, or therapy.
In fact, much of my growth can be directly tied to therapy. I have been in therapy for years with a few different therapists, and it has helped tremendously. If you want to explore some of these deeply-held internal beliefs, then I highly recommend you seek out a therapist to help guide you through this work. Working with someone who can hold you accountable in a gentle, thoughtful manner can not only speed up the process, but it can also lead you to realizations that you might not make on your own.
Basically, therapy is the best. You should consider making therapy a priority if you relate to any of the obstacles below and want to work on them.
1. No Boundaries
For most of my life, I didn’t have any clear boundaries. I was never taught how to stand my ground, defend my beliefs, or assert myself in any way when I was a child. That meant that when I became an adult, I let people walk all over me, ask too much of me, and take advantage of me.
This led to me feeling beat down, exhausted, and shitty about myself because I didn’t feel respected or taken seriously. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting my overall mental health until I finally began making small boundaries and trying to defend them.
How I Fixed It
Learning how to set boundaries and maintain them is hard work. It takes a long time to feel the least bit comfortable doing it. What it comes down to is learning how to respect yourself and give yourself space to be safe and happy. Therapy, both individually and with Jon, helped me develop the language I needed to set clear, firm boundaries and ask that others honor those boundaries.
My first real boundaries came into place when I began the Morning Pages journaling practice. I needed uninterrupted time to write — no exceptions. I set boundaries around writing time, which was new and uncomfortable for Jon and me. Through this process, I learned how to defend boundaries in a safe, healthy setting.
Over time, with plenty of practice, I’ve gotten much better. I’m now at the point where I can comfortably and calmly maintain a boundary — even when someone else gets angry or emotional.
Everyone should learn how to set boundaries and give themselves that gift. I’m making a point to teach these skills to our future children so they don’t have to stumble through it as an adult as I did!
I grew up as the supposedly smart, special kid. I was the ideal student: good grades, teacher’s pet, involved in afterschool activities, and held up as a shining example of a promising young woman. All through my childhood, I was told I was special, I believed it. Who doesn’t want to believe they’re special?
As I got older and left high school, the pressure grew. I felt like I needed to be at the top of my class, receive awards, and be the best — if I fell short of these lofty expectations, I failed. So my choices were to either perform above the rest or be a disappointment.
How can you learn new skills or grow as a person at all if there’s no room for failure? It’s no wonder I stopped trying.
For a long time, I stayed in safe zones. I didn’t try anything unless I knew I’d be amazing at it. That meant no art, no experimental fashion, no new hobbies. I would buy journals only to shelve them, unused, because I was afraid of messing up their pristine white pages. I wasted years avoiding mistakes, and in the meantime, avoiding any real growth as a person.
How I Fixed It
The transition from anxious perfectionist to happy mistake-addled me was born from one single, simple phrase:
Done Not Perfect
I started saying this phrase in 2017 as my new year mantra, and boy did it perform miracles. Any time I found myself staring at a blank piece of paper, hand hesitating above the page, I’d say this mantra out loud and spur myself into action. When I’d sweat about hitting publish on a new social media post, I’d mutter this phrase to myself and swallow my fear.
What happened after that was nothing short of pure transformation. I didn’t just say the phrase anymore — I lived it. Slowly, over the course of several years of Done Not Perfect, I’d find every beginning easier. New hobbies became opportunities to explore, not minefields of potential mistakes. Drawing became less terrifying, and painting felt fun for the first time since I was a kid.
Now I make mistakes like I breathe air, and I love it. I’m constantly trying new things, experimenting, and living life without so much hand-wringing. Perfectionism, I’ve learned, is just procrastination, and I’m not interested in putting my life on hold any longer.
3. Putting My Needs Last
Another side effect of my childhood was the peculiar way I always seemed to be last on my priority list. I grew up as a nice Midwestern girl, and I was taught to put everyone else’s wants before my needs.
And my wants? Foolish. Wasteful. Unnecessary.
This has led to me, a grown woman who makes plenty of my own money, asking for permission from everyone else before I make purchases.
There are holes in my socks? It’s fine, they still work, I don’t need to spend money on new ones. Run out of a color in my watercolor set? I’ll just make do by mixing other colors to get something close.
I wore the same single pair of boots for two solid years and I damn near had a panic attack when they began breaking down. I felt guilty about buying another pair, but I didn’t have any other suitable shoes. It took Jon’s patient but exasperated help to finally buy another pair of boots to replace the busted ones.
I tend to feel like any extra money spent on me is a luxury — even when any reasonable person would think the purchase is a utility. And this constant fear of wasting money on me comes from a deep-seated desire to put myself last, even when I’m the only person on the list.
How I Fixed It
This one is still very much a work in progress, but I have come a long way.
Having a pre-agreed upon budget for certain spending has been tremendously helpful. For example, I often feel guilty as hell about spending money on hobby hopping. So Jon and I have agreed upon a hobby budget for the year. That means I can buy whatever I want whenever I want and not feel a single pang of guilt about it.
Another thing that helps is outside validation. If you’re like me and struggle with this particular point, accept that your normal meter is broken and find someone who is willing to give you guidance. This could be a therapist, a trusted friend or relative, or a significant other. They can help remind you that you are worthy and deserving of basic utilities, comfort, and luxuries.
And finally, positive self-talk. Try saying affirmations out loud to yourself to compete with the negative self-talk you hear in your head. Remind yourself that you are worthy, you are valuable, and you deserve boots without holes in them.
4. Phone Addiction
I, like most people my age, struggle immensely with my phone. I spend between two to four hours every single day staring at that little glowing screen. And I don’t love it.
Don’t get me wrong — I do enjoy and benefit from social media. I find inspiration on Instagram. I laugh my ass off and learn new things on Tiktok. There is much to gain from these online spaces, and I’m not advocating for quitting cold turkey. But I also can’t dismiss or ignore the fact that social media steals a great deal of time and mental health from me every single week.
How I Fixed It
I am not cured of my social media addiction, but I have learned some ways to manage it.
First, I delete certain apps off my phone to make them less accessible for mindless scrolling. This helped tremendously with my Reddit obsession back in college. It’s harder to access the desktop versions, but not prohibitively difficult, which makes this an easy win for the social media addict.
If I can’t delete them (because I’m a damn content creator and certain platforms don’t allow you to post on desktop versions 🙄), I make them a bit harder to access. I do this by tucking the app in a folder on my phone so I have to go through a few extra steps. Every few months, I’ll move the folder slightly on my screen so my muscle memory can’t go through the motion as easily.
Next, I use tools like bedtime mode that make my screen go into greyscale at night to make social media less enticing.
I also disable ALL notifications from social media, keep my phone on silent, and try to not have my phone within reach while at work or engaged in a task. Jon constantly jokes that I’m impossible to reach because I often leave my phone in other rooms and have it on mute, but that’s exactly how I like it.
I have touched on feelings of guilt several times already in this article, but I wanted to point it out specifically as its own obstacle to happiness. Every time I think I’ve uncovered all my hidden guilt-based fears and behaviors, I’ll flip over another rock in my mind and find more.
My guilt has taken many forms — some are easy to pinpoint, and others are frustratingly vague. Lots of times guilt manifests as impostor syndrome, or it worms its way into my art and makes me feel terrible about habits (like drawing) that I know for a fact are healthy for me.
How do you deal with such a heavy blanket of guilt pervading everything you do?
How I Fixed It
I still find fun new ways to feel guilty all the time, but I’ve done a tremendous amount of work to unlearn old guilt-based behaviors. The way I did it? Therapy. Lots and lots of therapy.
Now, when I find myself feeling guilty, I dig into that feeling. Where is it coming from? Why am I feeling this way? Who or what caused me to make this association? Once I understand the root of the guilt, I can begin pulling weeds and get that parasitic bitch out of my mental garden.
6. Feeling Like I’m Too Much
My whole life, I’ve had people tell me I’m too much. I talk too much, I’m too excited, I’m too emotional, I’m too opinionated, I’m too ambitious…
Thanks to this constant stream of unsolicited feedback on my character, I’ve spent my whole life making myself small. I didn’t wear the kind of clothes I liked because they were too flashy. I didn’t dye my hair because everyone would look at me and judge me. When I got excited, I apologized for being too animated, too talkative. Despite loving singing, I am ashamed to sing around others because it’s too “attention-seeking”.
How I Fixed It
As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve come to the simple conclusion:
Fuck that noise.
Honestly, the whole concept of being too much is a huge load of shit. It doesn’t matter how small you make yourself. You could be the most boring beige square of a human and these kinds of people will still find ways to be displeased with you.
So what’s the point of dulling your shine if it will never be dull enough for everyone?
Now, I’m living big to make up for the years I kept myself in a neat little box. I’m wearing bright lipstick, rocking funky sexy clothes, dying my hair bright colors, piercing my nose, getting a tattoo… I’m doing it all, baby.
It started with baby steps — a pink jacket here, a neon mani there — but over time, these things became a part of my style, my identity. Before, I felt uncomfortable talking about my hobbies and interests. Now you can’t escape my aura of excitement over the D&D campaign I’m writing, or the book I’m reading, or the art I’m making. I’m unapologetically enthusiastic, and no one can tell me I’m wrong for romanticizing life.
The key is realizing that other people’s opinions don’t matter. If I wouldn’t go to someone for their advice, why would I take their criticism? At the end of the day, life is way too short to not be excited about cool stuff or wear your favorite color. Be vibrant. Be loud. Take up space and shine like a goddamn diamond. Make everyone turn their heads and notice how awesome you are.
Being You Isn’t a Crime
It’s easy to feel like you aren’t allowed to take up space in the world, especially if you’re femme presenting, POC, or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The world tells folks like us to shut up, step back, and don’t make a fuss.
If you want to stick it to the man, the best thing you can do is live your life exactly as it best suits you. Be punk, be goth, be Barbie, be a tie-die drenched hippie. Be all of it, or none of it, or something in between.
The world is full of people who will always criticize you no matter what you do, so why bother trying to make everyone happy? Make yourself happy, and you will be at peace with the disapproval of others. You are valued, you are loved, and you are wonderful. You deserve to be happy. Share your authentic self and be who you were meant to be.