Our life works so that we are born into living up to others’ expectations. It starts with fitting into our parents’ expectations and then goes through 12-15 years of living up to our teachers’ expectations and nothing at all focuses on living up to our own expectations. In fact, as I recall from my early years, adults said to me over and over again that life was not about what I expected while they did everything in their power to make me fit their expectations.
There are several problems with living life that way and the common thing between them is that they are motivated by the fear of not matching others’ expectations.
- The first problem is that the subconscious mind, which does over 90% of our decision-making, does not take orders from any external source, like our parents, friends, husbands, wives or bosses, only from us and does everything to protect us. If, for some reason, the subconscious thinks you are doing something to please others, it thinks you are afraid and under threat and will not allow you to do it. It will sabotage your attempts by triggering feelings of resentment and anger, so the next time it happens, it will not happen naturally but you will have to overcome your anger and resentment in order to comply with the others’ expectations. Subconsciously, if we do something that is in contradiction with our own values, beliefs or rules, our own mind will block us from doing it. So, if you want your conscious mind to live in peace with your subconscious, you now have one good reason to let go of living up to others’ expectations.
- The second problem is that when you are subject to pressure from others, you are in trouble when two sources contradict each other. This happens to many students, because they are told at home to behave one way and at school to behave another way. Sometimes, one place is more supportive and accepting than the other, but the child is torn. The chance of you fulfilling everyone’s expectations without them contradicting each other is practically zero. There are no 2 people on earth that have exactly the same preferences. Parents and kids do not have the same desires and philosophy and even couples do not have them. This is just human – we are different and it is wonderful, but we cannot expect 100% agreement, because we are not clones. Most of the time, when you are in this situation, you will tend to go with the one that puts more pressure on you and by that, you teach the people around you that in order for them to get what they want, they only need to put enough pressure. This way, by responding pressure, you are attracting more of it. So if you want to let go of external pressure, you must let go of living according to others’ expectations.
- The third problem that stems from the second one is that by giving others the power over your decision-making you are not working your own “wanting muscle”. Decision-making is a very important mental function. For our decision-making “muscle” to be able to perform its sometimes-difficult job, it needs to be free, strong and flexible. If you live by others’ expectations, you are not free, because you are dependent. If you live by others’ expectations, you are not flexible, because you are limited to the range of the expectations. This happens a lot in parenting. Kids are like goldfish – they grow to the size of their bowl, that is the size of the expectations. If you expect them to succeed a little, they will live up to that, and if you expect them to achieve more, they will live up to that too. So, if you live up to others’ expectations, you are not open to explore more than what is expected of you – that is life. We do not try because we do not think we can. If you live by others’ expectations, you are not strong, because you do not get enough opportunities to work your muscle and to learn from your mistakes. When I was young, I learned to shoot targets with BB gun. The rule was to aim to the target and correct yourself from one attempt to the next, so that on the third or fourth round, you shoot much closer to the bull’s-eye. No one sits there and tells you, “Stupid, you have to shoot 3mm higher and I’m very disappointed in you”. You have to walk over to the target and come up with that conclusion yourself (the correction, not that you are stupid). The choice-making “muscle” is much the same – you cannot make good decisions if you do not correct yourself and if you do not try again and again. So if you want to be good at making choices, let go of living up to others’ expectations.
- The problem of giving others the power is developing helplessness. It is as if they hold your heart and mind and you are vulnerable. When giving others power over you, you are actually taking your heart out of your body and giving it to the others on a silver platter. It is like are telling them, “Here is my heart. Do whatever you want with it”, and you know what? People will. The more power you give them, the more powerless you will feel and this is when you cannot think of ways to lift yourself up. This is when you feel totally out of control. If you want to feel powerful and in control, let go of living by others’ expectations.
- Another problem is that doing things to impress others, which takes a lot of effort. Again, the origin of this behavior is fear and a desire for others to like you, because you do not think you are good enough just the way you are. Trying to be something you are not is like living behind a mask and everyone gets to a point when they can no longer live like that and that moment is a huge shock and trauma to the system. I work with many clients whose main challenge is to let go of the desire to impress others, to bring down the wall of pain and to allow others to see them as they really are. Being yourself is easy and requires no effort, but being someone else is living in a constant lie and almost losing your identity sometimes. Even the best liars in the world cannot keep lying forever. So if you want to be true to who you are and to live life effortlessly, you must let go of the desire to please others.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition
– Steve Jobs
This life is yours and yours only and no one should take charge of it. You are the only one who can control your own subconscious mind and the only person that can take care of your own best interest.
Let go of living up to others’ expectations by speaking your mind, by listening to your gut feelings and by aligning your beliefs, values and rules to match them. Use your feelings as a guide. I am not suggesting that you live in the world on your own to minimize external influences, but whatever comes from the outside, ask yourself, “Does this match my feelings? Does this match what I believe? Does it feel right to me?”
I have had numerous ethical decisions to make that did not go hand in hand with the opinions of those around me. The first time it happened, I quit my job, because I could not see myself fitting in with what was expected of me, which I considered unethical (I thought they were crimes against the kids we worked with). Later on, when I built my confidence, I stood up to my supervisors and followed my gut instincts and my values and 95% of the time, that worked for my advantage. This is not bulletproof, but it makes it much easier to sleep at night.
Join me next time for chapter 7 of The Art of Letting Go on how to let go of blame and excuses.
Until next time, follow you heart!
This post is part of the series The Art of Letting Go:
- The Art of Letting Go: Attachments
- The Art of Letting Go: Fear
- The Art of Letting Go: Trapped by Labels
- The Art of Letting Go: Be Right or Be Kind
- The Art of Letting Go: Living up to Others’ Expectations
- The Art of Letting Go: Control
- The Art of Letting Go: Blame and Excuses
- The Art of Letting Go: Painful Past
- The Art of Letting Go: Negative Self-Talk
- The Art of Letting Go: Resistance to Change