Our reputation matters. It influences our employment, our relationships and the degree to which we fit in. But what is the cost of allowing others to shape and define who we are?

I’m entering the decade of raising teenagers. Over the next ten years, my two sons will transform into young men. Meanwhile, they are entering the stage when the social pressure to fit in becomes all-consuming. The question of how to define and claim your identity on your own terms seems more pressing than ever.

I had to jump through hoops, overcome obstacles and endure social rites of passage on my personal development journey into adulthood – and I made many of these experiences harder than necessary by not setting and maintaining healthier boundaries. I definitely held myself back in certain areas of life because I worried too much about what other people were thinking.

After learning the hard way, I’d love to say my boundaries are now iron clad. However, nothing triggers my old wounds and insecurities like parenthood.

It’s natural to want to protect our children from real and perceived harm. Especially as the modern overprotective parents so many of us are. And it takes every ounce of resolve to resist acting on our mama- or papa-bear instinct when our kids are being picked on. It feels unnatural to stand back and hold our tongues while our mini-mes are measured and defined within highly competitive environments.

With two sons playing competitive sports year-round, I receive regular opportunities to feel reactive and out of sorts—or to connect inward and stay centered when I get triggered. 

Reacting from a wounded place, particularly on behalf of our children, does not serve anyone. Rather than projecting and repeating unhealthy patterns, it’s more empowering to give our kids strategies to move through their unique struggles with the knowledge that they are always enough.

Parents or not, when we feel triggered by other people’s actions or opinions, we are being gifted the opportunity to think, act and move forward in a new way.

These are the 3 strategies and life skills I’m striving to teach my sons and apply in my own life, at every stage. These strategies remind each of us that, on the long road to self-definition, we are in the driver’s seat.

Know Thyself

In order to preserve your personal autonomy in the company of critics and naysayers, it’s essential to have a deep sense of who you are. If you’re unsure of who you are or what you stand for, it’s easy to get knocked off course by others who believe they know what’s best for you.

Knowing who you are is your lifeline. But how do you create and sustain a straight line to your inner compass and true essence? Naturally, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. But here are some easy ways to strengthen your self-awareness and self-connection.

  1. Remove distraction. The best way to quiet the external noise and incessant opinions of others is by taking regular breaks from your devices and social media. Better yet, create healthy parameters around how much technology you consume and the quality of what you’re actually consuming.
  2. Create a regular habit of quieting your mind by meditating, focusing on a single task at a time, or enjoying a pastime that allows you to feel present and in the moment.
  3. Create a single focus or intention for your week that helps you grow your self-awareness. The idea is to check in with yourself throughout the day in regards to your intention or focus. Your weekly intention might be to breathe deeply. To be grateful in the moment. To remember how it feels to smile. To step out of your comfort zone every day. The list is endless and should be personal to you.
  4. Be mindful of who you spend time with. Notice how you feel around others. Does spending time with them add to your life? Or does it feel like an unequal or negative exchange of energy? Find the people you feel good around. Nurture those connections.

Remember that Everyone Deserves to Be Here

One of the best ways to stop letting others define you is to stop putting them on pedestals. We are all learners and teachers on our human journey. You can respect your teachers and your fellow learners without giving your personal power away.

As far as human worth is concerned, nobody is better or worse than anyone else. There are huge gaps in the playing field when it comes to privilege and opportunity, but being born into privilege does not make someone any more worthy of being here than someone who wasn’t.

Come back to this strategy when you wonder if someone else’s opinion is more important than your own. It helps keep your ego in check, it helps you treat others the way you wish to be treated, and it helps you maintain healthy boundaries with those who overstep.

We are all on the same human team here, people. Let’s keep it real.

Begin (Again) with Gratitude

When our self-efficacy is shaken, or we don’t believe in ourselves, we need only begin again from where we are.

Starting from ground zero can be a gift. It allows us to take small steps forward, building our perspective and experience in an intentional way.

Instead of worrying about what others think or dwelling on your shortcomings, focus on one small thing you are grateful for right now.

Start your day with gratitude. End your day with gratitude. Find the blessings in your current circumstance, no matter how hard that may be. A regular gratitude practice can be fun and contagious. It opens the door to rediscover the lighter side of life. Notice how gratitude helps you experience others in a new light and draw in more of what feels good and right.

Whether you’re in the throes of your teens, parenthood or in your golden years, the perspective of gratitude can simplify life and serve as a reminder that each day is a gift.

The best gift you can give yourself – at every age – is to maintain a strong connection with yourself so you recognize and like who you are.  

The human journey is rarely smooth, but it doesn’t have to be overly hard. It becomes harder than necessary when you lose yourself in the mix, or you hand your power over to the opinions of others. If life feels really hard, remember that you have a choice to start fresh from where you are.

Article originally published on emilymadill.com

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  • Emily Madill is an author and certified professional coach, ACC with a BA in business and psychology. Emily is one of Thrive Global's Editors-at-large. She has published 11 titles in the area of self-development and empowerment, both for children and adults. You can find her writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul:Think Positive for Kids; Thrive Global; The Huffington Post; TUT. com; Best Self Magazine; MindBodyGreen; The Muse; WellthyLiving.ca; TinyBuddha; Aspire Magazine and others. Emily has a private coaching practice and an online program offering courses that support others to create lasting habits around self-love, well-being and all things related to time and weekly planning. She lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with her husband, two sons and their sweet rescue dog Annie. Learn more at: emilymadill.com