Allowance and Permission


I’ve been thinking. (Again? I really need to stop that.) This time it’s about an odd thing I’ve begun to notice, mostly in my own life, but perhaps also in others’.

In 2007 I was in my second and final year of college at the University of Texas at Austin, and I hit a brick wall of dilemma. I touched on this in my post about Creating the Life We Want, but I didn’t want to justify my choice so I didn’t go into detail. I still don’t, but you need the basics so this makes sense. I was in a long-distance relationship with the love of my life (and future husband). I wasn’t happy being four hours apart, so I was doing all of my coursework as fast as I could. I tested out of many credits, took summer classes, etc., and had it down so I could graduate in two years plus two summers.

The problem? I loved school. I always have, but UT was the absolute perfect fit for me. My professors were brilliant, my classes were interesting, my surroundings were gorgeous. I was in scholastic heaven, even if I was dissatisfied in my personal life. I had already made my decision to sacrifice the length of that experience for the sake of upholding my most important relationship, and I thought I had made peace with that. Then my absolute favorite professor – sort of a mentor, I suppose – asked me why the heck I wasn’t in the honors program.

Talk about a personal crisis. Someone I respected beyond words had questioned my decision – completely unwittingly, by the way; he had no way of knowing why I was in a hurry or even that I was graduating early at all – and all of my hidden doubts rushed to the surface and my fortitude crumbled. I felt that if I were to be fair to myself I would have to honestly consider this option I had brushed aside. I couldn’t do both. Did I want to stick with the plan and graduate early to move in with my boyfriend? Or did I want to embrace a full four years of college and get into the honors program?

I was so torn up about it that I actually went to see a school counselor. I told this counselor my dilemma, explaining my thoughts behind everything – including why I thought it was more important to graduate early and move. She listened very politely, asking occasional questions as I cried through my words, and when I finished, she said, “It sounds to me like you’ve already made your decision. Do you just need my permission?”

My breath gushed out of me as I thought. I really thought about it. She was right; I had already decided. So why was I so upset? Finally, I said, “Yeah. I guess I do.”

She smiled. “You’re an adult. You can do whatever you want. You don’t have to do the honors program.”

Guys? Freedom.

For the record, I did graduate early. (And ironically, with “highest university honors.”) My professorial mentor totally understood – didn’t even try to talk me out of it. I do miss the scholastic life, but I have never for a moment regretted that choice. If I had graduated even one year later, my dad never would have seen me cross the stage before he died. I might not be where I am today, living very happily married in a town I love with a network of friends and family supporting me, pursuing my dream career full-time. I knew what I wanted. I did. All I needed was someone to give me permission to do it.

I know this probably seems ridiculous to some people. Of course we don’t really need permission to choose the life we want. Of course. But at the same time, there are sometimes emotions that can’t be touched by logic. For me, one of those emotions is allowance. Sometimes when I’m up against a really difficult choice I don’t allow myself to choose the one I really want – at least not without plenty of self-torture first. Is it silly? Yes. Is it a waste of time? Maybe. Is it something I find myself doing anyway? You betcha.

That’s where permission comes in. That’s where love comes in. And respect, and trust, and patience. Many of us feel this way, and for me I’ve found the best thing to do is go to someone I love and talk it out. Whether spoken or implied, these people (trust, respect, patience) give me “permission.”

And I should note, here, that I’m using “permission” in a manner closer to “condone” or “support” than to what many people think of as “to permit.” I’m not implying that the people I go to have “the final say” or any sort of authority over my decisions. It’s more like getting someone’s blessing. They ease the burden of my allowance with their approval. (Almost like getting Kickstarter backers in real life. Everything goes to hell later? Well, at least I have these few folks who thought it was a good idea too. At least I didn’t go all-in completely alone.)

As I grow more aware of this tendency, I do hope I’ll become less dependent on bending my loved ones’ ears to ease my anxiety, but maybe I won’t. That’s what love is, after all, isn’t it? A sort of willful leaning? Accepting someone fully – giving them the space to weigh their own choices? Support and permission. Trust, respect, patience.

I know I’m not the only one who’s let an absence of self-allowance stop or at least delay me from choosing the life I want – no matter how large or small. I’m so grateful to have a handful of special people in my life who love me this way. I hope you all have someone you can go to who will give you permission, too — whether spoken or unspoken — but if you don’t, I hope you’ll allow me to give you mine. (I do care about you. Even if we’ve never met. I don’t care if you think it’s ridiculous; I do.)

You have permission. Choose the life you want, every day. It’s scary sometimes, I know. But here’s a little piece of wisdom my mom told me: not choosing is a choice as well. Everything we do is a choice; that is the nature of life. So you might as well choose what you actually want.

It holds the most beautiful freedom.

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  • Peggy

    Smiling through tears:)

  • richweatherly43

    Well said, Annie!
    I admire your decision to reach out to others for validation when you feel the need. By engaging others, you are showing them you value their input and it helps allay the doubts you might have. Great leaders choose knowledgeable advisors and weigh arguments for and against issues affecting their decision. That is much better than the narcissist who takes dogmatic stand and fails to consider all options.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • This comment is so very sweet. And of course you’re right, though I would never have put such a positive spin on it. You made me feel much better about sharing this. 🙂 Thank you, Rich!

  • What a lovely post, Annie. I know exactly what you’re talking about, because I’ve done similar things. It’s taken me a while to admit to myself that ultimately I’m the one who lives my life, not other people. Accepting that has allowed me to take ownership of my decisions, which for some reason makes it easier to make them.

    • Thanks, Lura! It’s funny you say that. You made me stop and think for a minute. I do see how ownership and permission go hand-in-hand, but I don’t think that’s what I’m doing with this particular little habit of mine. I almost always go into this search for “permission” with my mind already made up, and I’ve never even considered shelving blame or credit with others after the fact, so I don’t think it’s an issue of ownership for me. In fact, I have a track record of being fiercely independent — to a fault — and not reaching out for support even when I desperately need it. (It’s a miracle, for example, that I went to a school counselor in the story above.) So I think this might be my own weird little way of asking for support “ahead of time.” Almost like going to my loved ones and saying, “I want to do this thing, but I know it will be really hard. If I do it, will you be there for me the whole time?”

      I’m really glad you said what you did, because you’ve shed some real light on this for me. It turns out that I’m asking for support at the time I feel most comfortable doing so — before I ever start sinking. Lucky for me I have so many people who are willing to be human floaties. 🙂

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Each of your posts is a reminder of why you graduated early, with academic honors, Annie. You are wise beyond your years. What you said resonated with me so much — particularly “Sometimes when I’m up against a really difficult choice I don’t allow myself to choose the one I really want – at least not without plenty of self-torture first.” Um, yeah. Self torture. That’s me, too. So I’m here to tell you that those tendencies don’t necessarily change with age. I’ve got quite a few years up on you — graduating from college in 2007… What? You’re just a wee babe …

    At any rate, I think that ‘bending your loved ones’ ears” is what it’s all about. Give and take. And I recently needed that “permission” from my own husband to take a step away from something that was dear to me. To let it go. Even though I knew I needed to and that it would be the best thing for me, I just needed him to support that decision WITH me, I guess.

    • Thank you! We creative types are notoriously good at the self-torture, aren’t we? I mean even choosing this lifestyle alone is a type of self-torture. (Difficult art, long waits, tons of rejection, little pay… why do we do this again?) But yes, I know exactly what your’e talking about and why it’s important to have someone by your side. It’s not just about permission; it’s about love. I’m glad you have someone you can go to, too, Melissa, and I hope your decision brings you good, good things. *hugs*

  • Traci Kenworth

    Sometimes we need that extra push to finalize our thoughts/plans. When I have to make a decision, I like to get opinions from others than weigh everything and choose the best decision for me.

    • Yes, I like the term “finalize.” That’s a good way to put it. I’m also a big fan of weighing everything — so much so that I have to force myself to stop sometimes.

  • jclementwall

    Love this whole post, but especially this: Everything goes to hell later? Well, at least I have these few folks who thought it was a good idea too.

    I laughed with recognition. xo

    • Hehe, thanks j! At least then there will be people to wallow in the misery with you, eh? 😉

  • I so believe that advice of your mom’s too. Not choosing is totally a choice. Beautifully told story here of taking a certain path. We all have big moments like this– forks in the road. Not everyone can pinpoint their different ones. I like the “beautiful freedom.” I believe I’ve taken that route, too.

    • Me too, Nina! As soon as she said it I knew it was so true. And thank you so much. <3

  • What a great post! I think there are times in all our lives where despite what our gut is screaming at us to do, we are too afraid to listen to it for one reason or another. This is where we go to someone we trust to tell us it’s okay for us to listen.

    • Thank you so much, Febekins. Beautifully said. And lucky me that I get you as one of mine. <3 <3

  • Cynthia Robertson

    I could so relate to this post, Annie. There are crucial
    pivot-points in life’s journey, or, maybe a fork in the road is a better analogy.
    These decisions are so hard. Hardest for women, in particular, I think (for a
    whole slew of reasons that could be an entire blog post in itself!). I think you
    made the right decision: writing does not require an advanced degree – or any
    degree, for that matter.

    Maybe the ‘trick’ or ‘knack’ of handling these moments is
    simply to realize that we ARE choosing something in that moment. That we can
    choose. And not just let life push us along a path we haven’t consciously asked

    “you might as well choose what you actually want.”

    Yes. Yes. 🙂

  • A. B. Davis

    This post really resonated with me, Annie. I was misty-eyed while reading, as crazy as that sounds–appears I have some hard decisions of my own to make. When you lay your vulnerabilities out like this, it is very endearing and I so just want to pat you on the back and let you know you’re not alone.
    P.S. I just read the poem that quote is from!

    • Aw, thanks Ashley! That is a wonderful, reassuring thing to hear. *hugs*

  • Exactly what I needed to hear at this moment. Thanks. Wonderful post.

  • Joseph A. Pinto

    Wonderful post, Annie! So true and to the point…thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Regina Richards

    Wow! Thanks for this post, Annie. Spot on.

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I love the honesty in this post and the permission you give yourself–not just to do things but to wonder and struggle and know you’re making choices. (And you sound like you make such good ones!) It took me years to realize this was okay (even though it was a natural part of who I am), maybe because I wasn’t raised that way. I totally agree that no choosing is a choice, and for me, the thought process in how I make the choice is almost as important as the choice I make. Great post! HAPPY SUMMER (after reading your most recent post!)!!

    • Thanks, Julia! I like what you said about the process being important. I don’t usually find it enjoyable, but I agree that it’s powerful to be fully aware that you’re making the choice and to allow yourself to struggle with it. Happy summer to you too!

  • Katy

    I liked this post–it was very thoughtful and thought-provoking. It made me think about my sister-who-is-actually-my-best-friend Lexy and the night I told her my deepest secret. It felt almost like I was asking her “Is this okay?”

    • Thank you, Katy! I suspect we all have our own ways of doing this. <3