Expectations can be good, and in fact many times they are very helpful. They push you to do the right thing, to work your hardest, to put in the effort and go the extra mile. But there are also many times when expectations are detrimental. Many societal expectations are bad for people. This person does not look respectable according to “society,” that person is not educated according to “society” and that person over there doesn’t practice the “right” religion, speak the “right” language, or marry the “right” person according to “society.” While this is a huge issue, it’s actually not what I’m here to write about right now.
Beyond the expectations by “society” there are also expectations from peers and family and friends that are brought about by your own personal past and your interactions with these people in particular. John* is in high school and his parents are proud of him because he’s always a model student: gets good grades, does extracurriculars, and is genuinely a nice person. Thus, John’s parents expect all this to continue in the future. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. Such expectations while seemingly good and just helpful motivators can become burdensome. John thinks “I have to get a good grade. Anything below a B+ and I’m a failure.” “I don’t like basketball anymore, but what will my dad think if I quit?” Thing is, people change but sometimes the expectations inhibit such change.
I personally am often very hard on myself and I just don’t feel the same way about myself as others do. They might say:
“You’re so smart”
“You’re such a healthy eater”
“How are you so skinny?”
“I wish I was more like you”
“Why aren’t you a music major? You play so well”
Honestly, I can usually see where people are coming from, but I have so many objections, as I’m not perfect. I constantly find fault with myself and thus can’t see myself as others do.
I’m so smart? Really? I get good grades but that hardly qualifies me as some super genius. I sure don’t feel smart, constantly being stumped by others’ questions I didn’t even think of. I’m good at absorbing teachers’ lectures and taking the tests well, but I often feel I didn’t really learn anything. And even if I learned a whole lot, I always feel there was more I could’ve, should’ve done. I’m not smart, I’m not good enough, I need to do better. I’m not doing enough. Other people are working harder, why am I a slacker? But sure, yeah, call me smart. Thanks, man. Maybe it’s just that my brother set the bar so high I never feel like I can measure up. Most likely though, it boils down to the fact that I know every part of my life. I’m with me 24/7, but I only see parts of others’ lives and they only see parts of mine. And most of the time that part is the good part, the part I’m okay with others seeing. The part where I look smart and well put together, where I eat healthy and exercise well. But really? I’m not always like that. I wish…
It’s because of these expectations and the part of me I want to show others though that affect my behavior. If I’m eating with someone, I feel I need to eat healthy or what will they think? I can’t eat too much. I can’t say something wrong. I’m smart I need to know all the answers. I’m a good flute player, I can’t mess up. I’m shy and introverted, I can’t be too loud, that’s not me. But really, all of it is me: eating healthy, eating junk, undereating, overeating, saying insightful things, saying stupid things, playing beautifully, messing up every other note, being shy, opening up in front of friends. We are all a huge melting pot and while some parts of us are shown more often, there are others parts to us that maybe only we or those who are close to us know. I guess I’d say embrace those parts and be proud.
*John was a totally made up person