Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Dealing with the Expectations and Opinions of Others

Expectations. Some consider them a necessary evil. I consider them a curse.

Expectations, especially the expectations that others apply to us, can often be a barrier. A barrier to your success. A barrier to your happiness. A barrier that blocks you from trying to do what you want to do, from following your passion, from being yourself.

And, yes, I’m speaking from experience. While I’ve managed to deflect the expectations that others had of me quite successfully, I did let my guard down once. That was a mistake. A huge mistake as it turned out.

Sit back and let Uncle Scotty tell you a little story.

A Language, Other People, and Me

Over the years, I’ve tried to learn a few languages. Tried is the key word there. For whatever reason, and there were more than a couple, I could never get past a basic level of proficiency in those languages. But for whatever reason, the people around me — family, friends, and teachers — seemed to believe that I had some sort of gift for learning foreign tongues.

In the early 1990s, I made what would turn out to be my last stab at trying to learn a language. That was the only time time that I took the expectations and the opinions of others to heart. Doing that wound up causing me a lot of stress and frustration. More importantly, it robbed me of time and energy that I could have devoted to other more worthwhile (for me, anyway) pursuits.

I made very rapid progress at the basic level. I outstripped many of the people I studied with and managed to gain that basic level of proficiency I mentioned earlier very quickly. I was hardly fluent in the language, but I was — if you listened to my teachers, friends, classmates, and family — on my way there. I wasn’t as sure, and wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to learn this language. And I wasn’t sure I was enjoying what I was doing.

When I start having doubts like that, it’s usually time to reevaluate. I didn’t, and kept slogging on.

I made a few more gains, but then I reached a point where all progress stopped. I should have recognized the signs and should have quit around that time. Instead, I listened to what people were saying. I started to believe that their expectations were mine. I soldiered on. To no avail. I stayed on a plateau and never reached the expected inflection point that would bring me towards fluency and mastery.

It took me quite a while to finally muster up the will to pack it in.

The damage was done, though. I’d wasted a lot of time, a lot of mental and emotional energy, and a considerable amount of money in the continued pursuit of a goal which turned out not to be mine in the end.

Expectations are a trap

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t escape others — friends, family, co-workers, teachers — having expectations of you. That said, you can’t take their expectations and opinions to heart. If you do, you’re ceding too much control of your life to them. And why should you let others have that much control or influence over you?

Instead, look at what people are expecting of you. Then ask yourself if those expectations mesh with any of your goals or plans. I can bet that few, if any, of those expectations do. So you have a choice: give into those expectations or go your own way.

When you give in, you divert energy and attention from your goals and instead try to achieve the goals that other have set for you. You might even succeed. Chances are, you won’t feel as strong a sense of attachment or accomplishment as you would if you were doing what you want to do.

Or, you can ignore those expectations and do what you want, do what interests you, do what you’re passionate about. You might fail, but you’re failing on your terms not the terms of others.

Don’t be afraid to let other people down. Remember that the expectations that others have for you have are their own. Those expectations aren’t yours. They never will be, and they shouldn’t be.

Anyway, if they didn’t have those expectations then they wouldn’t be let down in the first place.

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