Expectations hover over each and every one of us, and come at us from all directions—from our families and peers, society and especially ourselves.
Expectations are, sadly, inevitable.
They are an inherent part of being human, but the good news is not all of them are negative.
It is up to us, and no one else, which ones we choose to listen to, existing ones that we perpetuate and enforce on ourselves and others.
So let us take this opportunity to analyze the expectations that surround us, and which ones we ought to reconsider, question, challenge and refine.
Many of them are unreasonable, unrealistic or even impossible to satisfy, and that doesn’t make us failures—it makes us victims of fallacious expectations.
Let’s start with personal expectations, and how vastly they vary from one individual to the next.
A perfect example of this would be my boyfriend Oscar and I, two polar opposites who came from very different circumstances and grew up in very different worlds.
And sure it’s been a bumpy ride, but Oscar challenges so many expectations I have been letting weigh me down, and ones I have never even thought to question because they are such a fundamental part of how I think.
Many of the things I am seeking to achieve are not for my benefit at all. I do them to satisfy the expectations of others.
I have been everybody’s puppet, and I let my loved ones pull my strings because I don’t want to displease them. I live to satisfy their wants and needs—their expectations—and in the process, I have lost sight of my own.
This is a problem that plagues almost all relationships, and one we ought to be more conscious of.
Everyone imposes expectations on themselves and others, whether they realize or not, and others struggle to meet them—even if they are opposite their own—and tensions rise and often escalate to falling out.
They may never get resolved because no one knew what the problem was to begin with, and many times there wasn’t really one at all.
Everyone was behaving as they were naturally made to, setting and creating expectations and trying desperately to adhere to those unconsciously imposed on us by others, which often conflict with our own, as they should—that’s simply part of being human.
All of us have vastly different wants and needs and therefore inconsistent expectations.
We struggle to meet each others’ needs because we love each other and we want to be accepted, but the truth is if we really love each other, then we should just accept the fact that everyone is entitled to live the life they choose, and in a manner of their choice.
So back to me and Oscar.
Oscar did not receive the whirlwind of recognition I did growing up. I got an avalanche of praise for the smallest of accomplishments—drawing a picture, tying my shoes, reading a book—honestly, the simplest of things.
Oscar got the opposite.
He had to do a lot more growing up than I did in a short amount of time, and without a shred of credit for the fact that, at age nine, he was doing his own laundry, making his own dinner and cleaning the house.
It was a far cry from the sheltered, spoiled childhood I knew.
My parents loved and cared for me, supported me (rigorously), nurtured my creativity and gave me opportunities that kids like Oscar never knew. They taught me equality and modesty, and to accept others for their differences.
Yet, despite our differences, his circumstances—all he has been through, Oscar came out of all of this determined to succeed and take the reigns of his adult life, radiating confidence I’ve never known.
And why don’t I have any?
This made me wonder if my self-doubt is something I was born with or I learned along the way. My parents and peers supplied me plenty of support and recognition, which I often felt I didn’t truly earn.
Perhaps because they praised me on my art, which came naturally and effortlessly to me, leaving me to wonder what I had done to deserve the compliments I was receiving.
Oscar never got the recognition he deserved, but he was certain he deserved it, and maybe that’s what ultimately pulled him through the whole ordeal, shining bright with confidence.
Was it society, my education, the abundance of support, the media, my DNA? Who knows? Maybe it was a product of all these forces, inadvertently working together to eradicate whatever shred of confidence I had to start with.
My self-doubt has caused me to despise doing my art, something I used to love to do, and something I now avoid at any cost. I find it frustrating to a near-suicidal degree.
The fact is I care passionately about the art that I produce, and therefore it must be perfect.
My expectations have tainted a talent I once ached to exercise, and which has now gone woefully unused, disappointing many members of my friends and family, and myself.
But it still doesn’t compare to the utter ego-shattering disappointment of producing imperfection.
One wrong line, and I’ll be in a fit of rage, hurling things across the room, punching furniture and walls, which isn’t something someone would expect of me, but then again, they’d never expect me to draw anything less than exquisite.
Ironically, the only people who know me to be truly confident are my coworkers from back when I was a barista—bussing tables, taking orders, working in food service—so glamorous, I know.
The reason (I believe) is this: my performance in art and school are meaningful to me, and have serious implications regarding my future, capabilities and chances of “succeeding.”
But working in food service has no such implications for my future, not much reflection of my intellect, and best of all, essentially, no expectations whatsoever, as far as I was concerned.
This is because I never wanted to pursue food service, yet this setting brought out confidence and excellence I have never known. I was fast, efficient, a champion barista, witty and articulate (for the first time in my life), cranking out lattes, cappuccinos and smiles left and right.
I was the queen of bakery clerks.
I was cocky. I boasted my excellence to everybody, and I still stand by my title of best barista ever, but that confidence never carries over into other endeavors creaking under the strain of expectations.
Since abandoning my art, I’ve dedicated most of my creative mind to writing, which I’m hoping eventually to make a living doing. (Dream on.)
But my confidence, since leaving the safety of food service, has again diminished to a flicker of a flame that just a year ago burnt brighter than the sun.
Oscar tells me to be as confident in my writing as my coffee-making, which makes me wonder if he operates his confidence the way he does a muscle, like it’s some voluntary function he controls on command.
But my confidence seems to run on auto-pilot, with no regard for my agenda, or it is off altogether, so I can’t seem to find the switch.
Why must the expectations we live up to weigh us down so heavily?
How can people be expected to uphold this soaring image of success?
I suggest we ask ourselves what we’re personally seeking, regardless of whatever expectations and advice and others people’s agendas we may be juggling.
Let’s put all of those aside for now and look inside ourselves for what would make us truly happy. Briefcases and business suits? Expensive cars? A penthouse suite? Enormous breasts?
Do these things make us successful?
If we get them, then will we be satisfied? Do we mistake these superficial wants for needs?
What is it you truly want to do? See and experience the world?
Maybe you have never been to Asia. Write a novel. Live abroad. Cast aside the expectations you’ve been struggling to meet.
If you want to, go take off into the wild, in spite of your college degree, just like Alexander Supertramp.
Shed whatever expectations pull you away from what you truly want to do. It’s your life, and you’re only given a fixed amount of it, so live it the way you want, and don’t be bashful.
Redefine your expectations in accord with your own wants and needs, and don’t apologize about it. And be mindful of the expectations you project on other people, and support them in finding their own direction and following their dreams.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Jes Wright/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo Credit: Deepak Sharma/Pixoto