Cleo is a dating columnist. Over the past few years, her job has been to swipe right on everything. Date with a stranger? Sure. An adventurous night out with “friends” when she’d rather have a bath? The heels are on, and she’s out the door. Attend everyone else’s weddings and baby showers? Point her to the registry.
Cleo’s readers want her to find her life partner, her mom wants her to reconnect with ghosts from her past, and her editor wants her to journey to a remote island and marry herself. Everyone expects something. What’s less clear is what Cleo wants for herself. Cleo is exerting a lot of energy to live up to external expectations. Unsurprisingly, it’s making her feel boxed in and unhappy.
Many people deal with anxiety associated with expectations from friends, family members, and society. Prioritizing other’s people’s hopes leads to negative outcomes because:
Expectations are not one-size-fits-all. They are based on experiences, opinions, and values; unless you align perfectly with the person setting expectations, their expectations won’t fit you.
Expectations don’t combine well. When more than one person voices expectations, the expectations are frequently unrealistic and contradictory. Having impossible standards leads to frustration, resentment, and feelings of failure.
Incongruency is psychologically draining. Contradictions between externally set expectations and internally set goals lead to low self-esteem and difficulty making decisions.
If you feel beholden to other people’s expectations, here are some tips for letting go of their wants and instead following your own:
Assess the expectation you are adhering to. Who set it? And why does it work for that person? How does following that expectation impact you?
Set goals for yourself. If you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, it is easy to adopt the whims of others.
Affirmatively voice your thoughts and desires. When you are accustomed to expressing your priorities, validating and honoring them becomes easier.
Examine the expectations you are putting on others. When you notice these expectations, try to understand your motives and remove the pressure you’ve been externally exerting.
For Cleo, learning to prioritize her expectations and ignore the expectations of others would have given her the mental space to do things she valued – write a book, make genuine friends, and come to terms with the reality of being an Emma Watson-esque adult woman.