Happiness is not dependent on the approval of others. It took me a lifetime to learn that. I don’t know why it was hard for me, but for whatever reason, that seemed to be one of the hardest things in my life to learn.
As most children, I wanted my parents to approve of my decisions. They usually did, until I married my husband. They eventually came around, but I’m not sure until the day they died they ever really understood our marriage. Since they were married 43 years prior to my Dad’s death, and my husband and I will be married 41 years in December, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. I sometimes wonder if they are on the other side of the veil shaking their heads and saying, “I would never have believed it.”
My whole quest for approval of others was made much more complicated by the fact that I’m independent to the core. I do things my own way and in my own time. Right or wrong, my decisions have been and will continue to be my own—yet, until about five years ago, it irritated me when others did not understand or did not approve of my choices. It took me way too long to figure out that I don’t need that head nod from those who have no clue what my life is about.
There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Three Sisters,” Oct. 2017 General Conference).
President Uchtdorf then went on to paraphrase the following quote:
It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as quoted by Pegasus, “The Most Interesting Book Quotes of All Times”).
The statement that I have the power to choose not only my destination but the experiences that lead me to that destination struck me like lightning when I heard it. No one else has the power but me. I knew that, of course. I’ve always understood agency but hearing it expressed that way pierced my soul.
By feeling guilty that my choices aren’t accepted by others, or by mourning the fact that my intents are misunderstood, I surrender my own agency. Even though I’ve always made my own choices, I’ve still surrendered my agency by the guilt and mourning. I’ve surrendered just a little slice of the happiness that my choices give me.
My motives have been misunderstood more times than I can count. I’ve been judged as being hard as a rock and set in my ways. The word stubborn has been attached to my name like glue. I’ve been told I have a hard shell. From the outside, I’m sure all of that appears to be true, but it’s really just that I refuse to surrender my agency and let others make my choices for me. Ironic that for many years I made those choices and then surrendered just a slice of that same agency to the lack of approval of others.
I’ve had a very happy life, but that happiness is even more profound now that I refuse to surrender that tiny slice of agency. Maybe it’s age; maybe it’s not, but what others think just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ll stand behind my decisions in a heartbeat—even the bad ones. That’s what life is all about—finding your way, being tested, making mistakes, and repenting. Wash, rinse, repeat.
President Uchtdorf talks about living joyfully, and that none of us goes through life unopposed. (Id.) Surrendering that tiny piece of agency takes away just a tad of happiness. I’m not ready to give away anything because “men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) So, it’s not only my right to be joyful; but my responsibility.
Looking at the J.K. Rowling quote above, our choices show what we truly are. Looking back at my life, most of those choices were well worth making—even if not approved by others. There are some that I would gladly opt for a “do over,” but on the whole, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out. In the end, I have a happy marriage, four good adult children, and grandchildren who are being taught the gospel by their parents.
My kids have all served missions and married in the temple. While we have struggles and trials like every other family, and while whether we like each other depends on what day we are talking about, we all love each other and are striving to become an eternal family.
So, I may have taken the long way around. I may have made mistakes and had to repent along the way. I may have even banged my head against the wall on a few occasions out of frustration. I’ve struggled, but it has been my own life independent of the interference of others.
I want to endure to the end. I want to be able to say to the Savior, “You know, I messed up sometimes, but I really tried hard. Here is my life, and it is Yours. I did my best to be a good person. I did it on my own. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t live someone else’s choices; I made my own.”
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.