I once drove my scooter with a group of people to a place outside Chiang Mai called the Grand Canyon. It’s a beautiful natural canyon with tons of high cliffs, and everyone kept asking each other if they were going to jump.
Nobody told me that jumping was the whole point of going there, so while I had no real interest in jumping off cliffs that day, I did it. Not because I was following my heart, but because I just wanted to be a part of the group.
It was the literal embodiment of the old saying “just because everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?”
(Yes, apparently. Sometimes I would.)
So much of the work I do with women is to get them to think for themselves, stand up for themselves, put their desires and needs first, and stop letting other people make decisions for them. I’m a firm believer that being the proactive “leader” of your own life is the only way to freedom, self-trust, and being truly happy.
The problem with the old saying is that it implies a person might jump off a cliff blindly, without consideration of the circumstances. Following someone blindly is the exact opposite of thinking for yourself and putting your needs and desires first. Being a blind follower is dangerous and passive, because it means you disregard your own desires and intuition. Being a blind follower says: “I trust you more than I trust myself.”
That isn’t the case for me. I trust myself above all else. I trust myself so much in fact, that when I feel an occasional pang of desire to “be a part of the group,” I honor that shit full-out.
Because here’s the secret nobody will ever tell you about being an independent, highly conscious, CEO-of-your-own-destiny: It can get fucking lonely.
You do all this work to declare yourself independent from the mass of expectations and assumptions that society has for you. You question and challenge your thoughts and beliefs, learn to tap into your desires, and create the exact kind of life that suits you. You take relentless responsibility for yours thoughts and actions, pursue endless growth, seeking ever-deeper healing, and practicing feeling worthy as you are, right now.
You do the work to set yourself free, and it’s painful but exhilarating sometimes! You’re marching to the beat of your own drum! You’re dancing like nobody is watching! But you’re also feeling isolated, and a bit drained.
Once this journey is in motion, you start to notice some things. First of all, you’ll notice how much of your life is filled with people, places, ideas, and things that no longer serve you.
It’s astonishing how much clutter we acquire when we’re not living consciously and proactively. The process of getting rid of unnecessary people/places/ideas/things can range from uncomfortable to intoxicating to downright devastating, but doing so is an integral step for creating the life that you really want and deserve.
The second thing you’ll notice is that most people aren’t doing what you’re doing. Most people won’t understand the journey you’re on, and it can make you feel like kind of a black sheep. Most people are content doing normal things the normal way, never challenging the old programming. Those people are sometimes unsupported or uninterested in all your new growth and changes. They liked things the way they were, and they wonder why that was suddenly not good enough for you anymore.
This is a totally normal part of the process when you’ve been taking strides to separate yourself from the “pack mentality.” There are growing pains, and sometimes there’s separation anxiety. That’s ok. It can be a confusing impulse (even making you question your commitment to being an independent woman!) but sometimes what you want most is to just want to blend in again and feel… normal.
This is Where Conscious Following Comes in.
You give yourself permission to momentarily let go of all that radical self-responsibility and autonomy, and choose to honor the very real (and human!) desire to “just be a part of the team.”
Conscious following is when you hit pause on all the things that make you a proactive leader in your new life. You give yourself permission to momentarily let go of all that self-responsibility, independence, and autonomy, and choose to honor the very real desire to “be a part of the team.”
The difference between blind following and conscious following is that you’re making the choice to do this, with full awareness of what you’re doing, and why. You’re purposefully choosing moments and situations that won’t have a negative impact on you; you’re offering yourself the gift of feeling normal only when there is a very low cost. This isn’t about giving up your moral ground, it’s about giving yourself permission to take a break from the exhausting and isolating work of being a leader, and let yourself follow.
An example of conscious following in my life is how I dress. Some days and some events I dress purely to please myself, and I take pleasure in the contrasting oddness of my outfit against everyone else’s, because I put together something that really represented my unique self-ness. Other days and events, I text my friends to find out what the vibe is, and what they’ll be wearing, and I try to match it.
Another example is how two of my best friends and I form a democratic trio. In our own lives, we are each stubborn, independent leaders, and nobody can tell us what to do. But when we come together, we automatically follow the two thirds rule: if two of us want to do something, the third one is going to do it too. No questions asked.
I never put pressure on anyone else to make decisions, but things like where we go to eat, what we should do on Sunday, what movie we watch, or what we should order just don’t matter to me. So if someone else has opinions or a plan, I allow myself to passively go along for the ride, and I enjoy every minute of it.
There are so few examples in my life of me being a follower, so it feels kind of amazing. I never feel “guilty,” or like I’m turning my back on my independent self. It’s more like I’m offering myself the gift of connection and a sense of normalcy, when my life is anything but.
I run an online business, based on the thing that’s most important to me in the world. I live nowhere, and travel full time. I don’t have a boss, or a paycheck, or dress code. It’s only July and already this year I’ve spent three months in Costa Rica and three months in Thailand. I’ve had various intimate relationships, none of which ended in marriage or babies, and none of which probably will because that’s not what I want. I have no boyfriend, no house, no car, no pets, and no 401K.
I’d rather spend my days working than doing almost anything else, and the truth is I’ve never been happier in my life.
But sometimes I wish I was different. Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who wanted a house and babies and the whole normal thing. Sometimes I wish I didn’t need to dive so deeply into challenging and question every frigging thing, and just accepted things at face value. Usually I find myself wishing this on days when the pain of not being able to connect to people is acute. I often feel like an outsider to many of my peers, whose lives and values and habits are so very different than mine.
No don’t get me wrong here. I do have an amazing tribe of people from all over the world who understand and support my independent soul. I proactively sought and nourished these relationships, because I knew without them I would crumble backward into a life that I didn’t want. But these connections can never replace the feeling of just being normal.
Conscious following offers me the opportunity to feel that way, without compromising on the things that matter most.
A Final Note
A friend of mine, who is really shy and introverted, heard me explain the idea of conscious following, and said it was interesting but that she didn’t relate to it because she’s still learning to become a conscious leader. This made perfect sense, and is worth mentioning.
If you’re a natural leader or have been doing a lot of work to be more conscious and empowered in your life lately, this post might really resonate with you. But if you’ve been blindly following for a long time, or are still at the beginning of your journey to self-image independence, then you might need to focus more on how to be a proactive leader right now.
The important thing to remember is that we all have the potential to be both a leader and a follower. We all have access to both sides of ourselves, and can actively develop whichever one comes less naturally. That way you can strike the balance that best fuels and nourishes you.
I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies. That includes unlearning what a woman “should” be, feeling empowered and confident in yourself, embracing your authentic power, and creating a life so kick-ass and beautiful that you hardly have any time or energy left over to think about how your body looks. 😉
That’s why I created
The Empowered Women Project
— for women like you, who are sick of being judged for what you look like, and want to focus instead on all the amazing things you can do and be. Click here to know more