Have you ever imagined what would be like showing up to a board meeting wearing casuals? Or telling your family you’d rather spend major holidays like Christmas/Diwali alone with a book and a blanket? Or telling your ‘well meaning’ relatives that you don’t want to get married and have children?
Yeah, I know the mantra is - “live your own life”, or “put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others,” but the reality of putting our own desires, dreams and well-being first can be difficult if not impossible.
While these days the focus is all down to our personal choice, but what about the feeling of guilt that chases us if we dare go against any of the expectations that people, society and culture have?
Even if we don’t realise it, we are all living our day to day lives according to the expectations of others, including;
And suddenly, we are the bad guy for wanting to do what makes us comfortable and happy, so instead of chasing our own happiness, we chase what makes everyone else happy.
Where do they come from?
Many expectations – family and culture in particular – are imbedded in our brains in our early years. Before we reach the age of seven years old, we are absorbing everything around us and learning how the world fits together. Therefore, what we are told, and the behaviour we observe helps to formulate the cultural and family expectations that we will carry around for life.
Even if in later years you’ve moved away from the family those lessons still can guide your behaviour. The underlying fear we have, like fear of making a fool of ourselves while dancing – most likely it’s come from something that’s happened in our child hood, maybe we’ve been called clumsy, or been laughed at.
Or, if your parents never praised you without a ‘but’ – “Well done on your gold star at school, BUT, your brother has six gold stars already,” you may always feel you’re not good enough. That your achievements don’t mean anything.
This can affect your self-esteem and your own behaviour in all aspects of your life meaning your own expectations can then become too high (“If I want to succeed, I have to try harder than anyone else”), or they become too low (“There’s no point trying, I’ll fail anyway).”
How do Expectations Affect our Behaviour and Emotions?
We all accumulate these ‘expectations’ as we travel along the path of life, each added responsibility (job, relationships, parenthood) adds another layer to our already overburdened backpacks. Soon we lose sight of the grownup we wanted to become and the life we wanted to lead.
But living according to these expectations can have a detrimental effect on your life, your self-esteem and your mental health. So how do you spot the signs that you are living according to someone else’s expectations?
A feeling like something is missing in your life.
A feeling that you are living life on Auto-Pilot.
You are easily pressured into doing things you don’t want to do.
You find saying ‘no’ difficult.
You always feel someone is unhappy with you.
You feel guilty and selfish if you take time for yourself.
You fail to meet your own high standards.
You worry constantly about being judged by people (family, peers, society).
You don’t know who you are anymore.
Oops! That sounds like you?
There are no quick fixes for living your own life – many of the expectations are too deep rooted – but awareness is the first step.
Being aware of why you are doing something can help identify other’s expectations. Is it because you want to, or you feel obliged to? Is it FOMO (fear of missing out) or guilt?
So how would life be if you could somehow magically pull yourself out from under this bus? What would a day where you only do things for yourself look like?
Over the next three weeks I’ll be exploring some of the things that keep us stuck under the proverbial bus of ‘expectations.’
I will talk about what these different layers are that we deal with and how to manage them in a way that means you stay true to yourself. Hopefully, they’ll help you live YOUR best life free of expectations.
Remember if you are not changing then you are choosing.