One of my favorite writers, Brene Brown, says, “So many of us live our lives worrying about what people will think. We think to ourselves, “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of “I am not good enough.” The best example I have of myself doing this is my Christmas cards when my children were little. Poor kids. Each year, I dressed them in velvet confections complete with lace, black patent MaryJanes and white tights. I bribed them to sit still with Cheerios and Raffi videos long enough that I could curl their hair. I posed them in front of the fireplace and surrounded them with a plethora of white teddy bears. Anyone looking at this Christmas card would know I was a good mother. Just look at those darling children. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that they’re not smiling with their eyes and barely with their mouths. They’d much rather be building tents, decorating cookies or putting on plays.

I realized that I’m not alone in spending too much time wondering what people will think. Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, spent time with hundreds of patients in the last days of their lives. The most common regret people have at the end of their life is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Click to read about their other regrets.

Every year I receive a Christmas card from a friend’s daughter. She has two beautiful dark-haired daughters (reminiscent of my own) but her Christmas card is full of delightful pictures of her girls happily twirling, digging, and messing. It all looks so real. So refreshing. The biggest gift we can give to ourselves this year is to discard unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. Happy Holidays!