Not living up to the expectations of others can have strange results, in addition to being generally stressful. For example, when I was a kid, I believed that my life would be much easier if I wasn’t as intelligent. Because I was book smart, adults had all kinds of expectations about me – what I enjoyed, what I ought to be doing – and I was constantly failing to live up to them. I hated brain teasers (still do), had a terrible memory for details (ditto), and found myself utterly unmotivated by academic achievement. I worked hard in school, but not hard enough to make the top 10% of my class (much to the consternation of my parents). Because I did not fit into the typical mold of “smart kid,” I confused and disappointed my teachers, my parents, and my classmates. As far as I could tell at that time, being smart brought me a world of difficulty (not to mention endless talks about how I was not living up to my potential), and not much in the way of benefits.*
When faced by someone else’s expectations, we have two options. The first is to do our best to live up to them. The second option is to rebel against those expectations. The vast majority of people start out on one of these two paths, but most people eventually find that neither conforming nor rebelling brings real peace. As a child and a teenager, I was uncomfortable doing either. I couldn’t throw myself into school work for the sake of achievement, but I also enjoyed learning (at least about some things) too much to just slack off.
So what do you do if neither of those options work for you? What if you really want to live up to the expectations around you, but honestly can’t make yourself do it? I have experience with that path. It requires that you learn to listen to the promptings of your own heart and soul. If you aren’t going to do and be exactly what other people expect, and you also aren’t going to defy other people by doing the exact opposite, then the only other option is to stop reacting, and start acting. That means that you have to figure out what you want to do and who youwant to be. It’s a life long journey, but it’s worth it.
To start, you need to learn how to hear your own voice. It may take you some trial and error to figure out what works for you, but some common ways of quieting the mind chatter so you can listen to your heart include sitting quietly for at least 15 minutes, any form of repetitive exercise (walking, biking, punching a bag), or simple chores such as washing dishes or weeding the garden. Just start listening to your mind. If you stop feeding it with stress and worry, your mental dialogue will eventually slow down. You will begin to experience surges of inspiration and quiet promptings to try new things. Slowly, this way of thinking will seep into the rest of your life, and you will have access to a compass that can guide you along your path. Then it will be time to leave behind expectations and begin to live on your own terms.