Ever feel like you’re just not getting enough done? You’re not heading in the right direction or being productive enough with your time? There may be a general malaise that creeps over you at the end of the day because you still haven’t gotten that raise or started working out or cut back on watching TV. You feel generally discontent because life isn’t looking the way you thought it would and you’re certain you should be doing more.
But what should your life look like and why? Where do these expectations come from and are they even what you want?
These questions occurred to me after reading a recent Psych Central article from Samantha Rodman, PhD, “Acceptance and Rewriting Your Life Story.” In it she talks about accepting reality as it is, without judgment, and then making changes according to what you really want, not just according to expectations.
Those expectations may belong to us or they may belong to our parents and peers. Rodman gives the example of a young mother beating herself up about not being the parent she expected to be before she became a mother. Is it realistic to think we know exactly what we will do as a parent when we’ve never been one before? Experience teaches us things, and that shouldn’t be the least bit disappointing.
The expectation of one’s parents may be that you finish college and immediately find a job and start providing for yourself. That may have been accurate when your parents were 23, but that’s not the reality that millennials are facing.
The guilt about not being able to nail down full-time work is crushing and yet you did everything right, everything you were told to do. In the end, only you know how hard you are trying to find work, and when you take a look around at your peers you can see it’s not very easy for anyone.
The expectations of our peer group can also influence our feelings about where we are in life. As friends get married or start families, you can catch flack for your continued single lifestyle. Friends may even genuinely worry that you’re alone and missing out. Again, only you know if you’ve met your match and if you’re ready to settle down.
It’s not surprising that life doesn’t end up being exactly the way we thought when we were 6, 12, 18, 25, or 35 years old. But we have a tendency to forget to throw out the script and improvise. When I began to contrast reality and expectations in my own life, I came up with some pretty eye-opening revelations about myself:
I often feel like I should be more successful and make more money. There’s a whack idea in my head that says money is the way to show other people that you’re important, happy and successful and if you don’t have lots of money people will worry about you. Many people mistakenly believe money is the measure of every person, equivocating self-worth and net worth.
The funny thing is, money never meant much to me. I’m modest. Not a shopper. If I went back in time and told myself, at any age, that I’d be writing and editing as a career young me would be thrilled. I feel both happy and successful. Realizing all this felt like a huge weight was lifted.
Another script in my head says that I should get along with everyone and all my interactions and relationships should go smoothly. I’m not only conflict-avoidant, I’m very accommodating. I always feel like I should be spending more time with friends, although I may not even enjoy being around the person anymore. A part of me clings to my friendships as if they should last a lifetime.
In reality I take too much responsibility for my relationships. If I look back, I’ve had a lot of one-sided friendships, where I got far less back than I put in. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for friends who weren’t worth it, while the friends who were worth it got short shrift. That realization peeled away a lot of the guilt about losing touch with people or only spending time with new friends. It made me ready to start living my truth; I want make sure I give and bring happiness to the people who’ve done that for me.
Compare and contrast reality with your own expectations. What do you find?