Expectations are all around us. We can’t escape them. We feel the burden of expectation from society, family, friends, bosses, God… The list goes on and on. Sometimes it seems like everyone has an idea of who we should be and what is best for us.
I grew up believing I had to be perfect. The expectations were high and I felt so much pressure to meet them. I panicked if I didn’t get the best grades. I took advanced classes I wasn’t interested in just because they were advanced. I attended the most academically rigorous of my college choices because to go anywhere else would be underachieving.
There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. The problem with these expectations is they were not my own. I spent so much energy trying to be who I thought everyone else wanted me to be that I never figured out who I was. Trying to maintain everyone else’s standards for my life is unsustainable.
It is not my responsibility to meet anyone else’s expectations.
People have all kinds of motivations behind what they expect of us. Some want to protect us, some want us to make them look good, some might be trying to live vicariously through us, some like to be in control… Whatever is driving their expectation, it is ultimately still their expectation. You are responsible for your own actions and decisions, but you are not responsible for anyone else’s.
I might not know what their expectations really are.
When we try so hard to live up to every expectation out there, we sometimes find ourselves trying to meet expectations that don’t exist. For example, there is a societal expectation that a wife will cook dinner and keep the house clean. When I got married I assumed these things were part of my husband’s expectations of me. Actually, they are quite low on his list of priorities. So while I was trying so hard to live up to what I thought he expected of me, not only was I trying to meet someone else’s expectations instead of my own, I wasn’t even meeting his actual expectations.
When I base my decisions and my actions on someone else’s expectations I am giving someone else the power to make my choices for me and I’m essentially living someone else’s life. I fall into a victim mindset and just let life happen to me instead of taking responsibility for myself and creating a satisfying and meaningful life.
We are all different. We have different values. Different strengths. Different interests. When I am so focused on discovering who others expect me to be, I stop discovering who I am. I might miss out on the things that make me feel most alive. I might never discover what I truly have to give back to the world. And I know for myself, when I was living based on expectations that weren’t aligned with who I truly am, I felt frustrated, unmotivated, and resentful.
Now all this isn’t to say that you should go around flouting expectations left and right. The point is not to oppose everything anyone else expects of you. The point is to understand yourself and make choices aligned with who you are. To take responsibility for what you are doing and why you are doing it. Try asking these two questions when you’re not sure whether you’re trying to live up to someone else’s expectation or your own.
Who am I?
This is a big question, but so many of us rely on the expectations of others to tell us who we are and who we should be. It isn’t until we start to get to know ourselves and identify what really matters to us that we can take responsibility for our own lives instead of handing that control to others.
Take some time to ask yourself questions and dig deep into yourself for the answers instead of looking to others. I love using my journal for this, but you can do whatever feels comfortable for you. Explore questions like what do I enjoy doing? What makes me feel most alive? What gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment? What frustrates me? What do I value most?
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Getting to know ourselves is a lifelong journey and the possibilities are endless. The more you know who you are and what matters to you, the more prepared you will be to live an authentic life.
What’s my motivation?
Is this something I feel like I should do or something that’s truly right for me? Expectations, especially ones we’ve been living with for a long time, can be hard to separate from our own thoughts.
Think about doing whatever it is you feel expected to do. Visualize it as vividly as possible. How do you feel? What thoughts come up for you? Do you feel excited or resentful? Motivated or annoyed? Do you feel true to yourself and understood by others?
Now think about not doing it. What thoughts and feelings come up now? Do you feel disappointed or relieved? Guilty or regretful? Is there is something you would rather do instead?
Using this type of visualization can help identify how we really feel about something. Those feelings point out things we might be doing because we think it’s expected of us instead of because it’s in alignment with who we are.
We all face many expectations throughout our lives. But when we constantly strive to meet expectations we can lose sight of who we are and never uncover the unique things we have to offer.
How much pressure do you feel to live up to the expectations of others? What helps you honor yourself? What keeps you from doing so? What is one expectation you want to stop meeting today?