Growing up, I was a pretty good kid.
I was a relatively good student, surrounded myself with good people, and did my best to be a good friend to others. Some people might say this was a byproduct of good genes and others would probably claim this was due to good parenting.
Whether you believe in nature or nurture, you can’t deny parenting (or lack thereof) plays a huge role in how we grow as adults.
Throughout our childhood, our parents share an endless stream of advice. From, “Go the extra mile,” to, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot,” these little tidbits inevitably shape who we become.
Sometimes we follow each suggestion to the letter and begrudgingly realize we are becoming our parents, and other times, we actively fight this realization by rebelling, usually going against the direct wishes of our parents.
As hard as it is to internalize every single piece of advice, there are a few profound nuggets of wisdom that unavoidably stick.
To this day, I will never forget something my dad told me a long time ago:
It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
At first glance, you may be questioning my dad’s style of parenting. After all, any child hearing this may take it literally (as they often do) and use it as an excuse to ultimately get what they want.
Admittedly, I regurgitated these words on a number of occasions, usually after being caught coming home past my high school curfew. My dad would smirk, knowing I was simply following his parental advice and usually let me off with a warning.
Looking back, I don’t think I realized how great this advice actually was until I became an adult.
During my first year out of college, I moved back home while piecing together what my adult life was going to look like. Throughout this time, my dad’s advice rang truer than ever. While struggling through the process of starting my own professional career, I noticed I was constantly waiting for the approval of others. I now realize too many adults are burdened with the need to ask for permission.
Think about it. How many times have you felt the need to ask your boss for permission? How about your spouse? And your friends? Some even ask for permission from God when making hard decisions.
When we’re younger, we begin to form our own identities, only to have them taken away the older we get. We’re told to fall in line, go to college, graduate, find a job, get married, buy a house, save up, and eventually retire. The further we blindly go down this path, the more we feel the need to be validated by others.
This validation is hidden within the thinly veiled cloak of permission. We naturally feel good when we receive permission from others because they are reinforcing our decisions.
But what about the moments when we don’t receive permission?
Imagine this: You’ve been working at the same job for the past 5 years. You’re slowly working your way up to middle management when all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and realize you’ve plateaued. You’re not learning anything new and the only change you can make is a horizontal shift to another company.
At the same time, you’re considering jumping head-first into the unknown world of starting your own business using the knowledge and experience you now have. What do you do? Who do you talk to?
In this specific case (and so many others), there is only one person who is going to give you permission to take the leap. It’s not your boss. Or your husband or wife. It’s not even God.
In order to do anything worthwhile in life, you have to give yourself permission. And if it doesn’t work, or if people don’t like it? Be willing to ask for forgiveness.
I’ll be honest. If this was easy, everyone would do it. In reality, too many of us are afraid to make mistakes and, in turn, rely on permission from others to make tough decisions.
I’ve been involved in a lot of great projects as a freelance designer, but it took me several years to start saying no to great projects in order to pursue the one business idea I care about most. No one could give me permission to do that but myself. I had to start expecting people to “forgive me” when I said no to other things. One day I may need them to “forgive me” if my business doesn’t pan out. And you know what? That’s OK.
When I reflect on all of this, I can’t help but think: maybe my dad shared this advice a little too early. Maybe it went over my head as an immature child who was too wrapped up in what others thought.
On the other hand, now that I am (relatively) mature, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This struggle between forgiveness and permission is part of growing up. If anything, my dad gave me the chance to work through this sooner, even if I wasn’t entirely ready.
Because of him, I have developed the ability to make my own decisions and face my own consequences as an adult. This is a gift that can never be taken away.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!