Born and raised in Eastern Europe and living my life in Western Europe, it always astounded me how different we perceive life, love and belonging and how from all these different views we still make exact same mistakes.

If you are born in eastern Europe, from the very early age you are raised that your life does not necessarily belong to you. Your life belongs to your family and your community and your decisions are “influencing” everyone even when they are concerning only you. Famous scene from the book “Taras Bulba” written by famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol represents Taras bitterly scolding his son about his decision to join the enemy army (cause he is in love with the girl on the other side), then telling him “I gave you life, I will take it”, and shooting him dead. Of course, this is a very extreme representation of the principle, yet it is so true. If a person from eastern Europe tells parents they are choosing a different career or marrying someone parents don’t necessarily approve, they say: “how could you do this to us?” As you can imagine, not being able to separate connections between us and our closest environment is diminishing our chances for good life.

In West, I have experienced a complete opposite of the idea. In the west, your life belongs only to you and that sometimes goes to the extreme of your life being only about you and no one else. Parents can sometimes respect the individuality of their kids so much that they cannot even tell them what is their responsibility within the family (doing normal chores for example). In this extreme version, people are doing whatever they feel would make them happier, seriously hurting other people and feeling entitled to do so. These decisions are completely selfishly driven but with the same end results – getting lost in ways we decide to live our life because we are not able to establish normal connections between us and our closest environment.

Establishing the middle ground of “my life belongs to me, but my life is not only about me” is a very difficult task. We need to be able to understand the connection between us, our family, our environment and grow our relationships in a healthy way. There is a good rule of thumb for this. If our relationships expand our life and the life of other people participating in the relationship, it is a good connection that should be nurtured. If our relationships are damaging either us or the other side, it has to either change or end.

It is a New Year. It is a perfect time to re-examine our connections and either nurture them, heal them or delete them. Make a list, put three rows, put your relationships with different people in it. And then decide what are you doing with each. For your own benefit and the benefit of the people around you. Happy New Year!