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Bits and pieces of wisdom from unexpected places

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At this time of year we’re likely to hear some very interesting and often times wise reflections from opinion leaders in our society as they address assemblies of graduating students. Yes, a few of them drone on, but it’s worth paying attention to some of these speakers.  For example, in his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs shared some of his insights on succeeding in life with a message that can benefit us all, at any age.  He reminded the graduates, and in turn us, that our time here is limited and we should not waste it living someone else’s life, or version of life. That we should not allow another’s noise [opinions] drown out our own inner voice, our ideas, dreams and aspirations. That we should have the courage to follow our own heart and intuition.  He advised us that we have to trust in something, and that believing the “dots will connect” later on down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart.  He’s right on target!  These are important notions to share with someone who is at a transition in life, as the graduates are, and very good reminders for the rest of us.  It’s as true for us at the beginning of our lives or in a mid-life course change.

What happens if you don’t do this, if you don’t follow your own drummer and instead are corralled to chart a course mandated by another?  Well, your ideas and dreams fade, as does your self-esteem and confidence. You then become vulnerable to depression, disappointment and dissatisfaction with life, and develop a negative view of the world and yourself.

Turns out, it’s not always easy to follow your own inner voice and resist the control of others. Often times family and social pressures are so strong that we get lost in them.  It can be quite difficult to stay true to yourself, who you are, your thoughts, values, skills, preferences – the things you need to achieve satisfaction and fulfillment in life.  This cannot be done by following someone else’s dream of who or what you should be.

Sometimes we know ourselves well enough and are confident enough to stand up and take charge of our own lives.  Some of us are sturdy enough to resist the pressures of controlling parents, spouses or peers and be strong in our convictions.  This takes courage.  Some of us don’t know ourselves that well yet.  Getting there is a process, it happens as we grow and mature, and it takes time.  We may be at different points along that path as compared to our friends and as such should not make comparisons.  Furthermore, well-meaning family members should allow us the space and freedom to find our path and grow as a person, remembering that we all stumble and make errors along the way.

When you’re depressed, it’s easy to forget these things.  It’s easy to forget your baseline sense of who you are as a person, what you want and where you are going.  All you can recall are negative thoughts and a negative sense of yourself.  The urge to let this happen is quite powerful when depressed.  I found a simple exercise to help with this, called Defining Your Baseline, which I describe in chapter 3 of my book Managing Your Depression: What you can do to feel better(Hopkins, 2013).   It helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, personal preferences, beliefs, values, competencies, sense of purpose, what nourishes and energizes you. It’s a way to help you connect to your inner sense of yourself, to your baseline person.  This is important to draw on as an aid in your recovery.  Give it a try – you might be surprised!

Stay well!


A version of this article was previously published in Psychology Today.

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