I looked at my gift, half shocked and half worried.

“To be honest… I’m not sure I like it. I appreciate your dad’s generosity, but it’s not something I’d wear.”

At the time I was in China, and my ex-boyfriend’s father had given us (or forced upon us) a set of Cartier watches as a gift.

I understood it had meant to be a gift and under normal circumstances, I would’ve accepted it, but those circumstances were far from normal. Ever since I followed my ex to China, before suffering through a heart-wrenching breakup where he’d left me stranded alone there, he and his family would insist on changing my fashion. They showered me with clothes of their choice without asking for my opinion. They threw away the clothes I had without my permission. And when I still refused to wear the things they bought me, they scolded me and told me that I’d bring shame to their family — a family that stood high above the poor and middle class.

Growing up in a middle-class family, I didn’t have many brand name clothes. I didn’t have ‘access’ to the latest fashion. I didn’t have a wardrobe worth thousands of dollars. In fact, the only clothes I wore were t-shirts and jeans. I didn’t have a nice wardrobe like I had in China, but at least I felt more free. At least I wasn’t being judged for the clothes I wore, for the fashion I liked or for the person I was.

However, my ex’s family wanted to change that very part of who I was. They labeled my clothes as clothes fit for peasants, and looked at me with disapproval. Eventually, after a particularly nasty “why is she dressed like that” comment from my ex’s dad one evening, I gave in.

I started wearing the clothes they bought me. I cut my hair the way they insisted. I visited the stores they wanted me to, and even watched the movies like they wanted me to. I’d agreed to every request they’d asked of me, and in doing so, I’d lost a part of myself.

Even though I had a wardrobe that was worth thousands of dollars along with the latest fashion accessories and brand name purses, I wasn’t happy.

It’s only now, years after the breakup, that I’ve realized I should’ve refused and stuck up for myself.

A lot of people might think money is the best thing to have, but it isn’t true. It helps but it doesn’t buy happiness. If having money meant that I’d lose my freedom and a part of who I am, I’d rather not take the money. I’d rather stick to my beliefs.

Because the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with following your own choices. You are who you are, and you shouldn’t give in to other people who might have an opinion about the kind of life you should lead, the clothes you should wear, and what your passions are. People can give advice, but that’s all it should ever be. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide your own path.

But if you lose yourself because of people’s judgement or expectations of you, you’re betraying everything you’ve ever believed in. Your potential. Your passion. Your freedom of thought, who you are as a person. When you give in to what people tell you to do, you’re living their life, not yours.

Remember, there will always be someone who will judge you for what you do. Let them, because in the end it doesn’t matter. It’s not who you are, and it’s not who you should be. Stay true to yourself and lead your own path.