“Being a good citizen means you have a post-secondary education and a stable job.”
At least, that’s the expectation I was taught while growing up.
Now, I don’t believe my parents, teachers, and others had any bad intentions in teaching me this. They passed along what they knew and believed.
It’s easy to understand why my parents believed this. My Mom worked for one company her entire career. My Dad worked for two companies over his career.
Both of my parents were from the wartime generation.
One of the characteristics of their generation is that they tended to stay in one job their entire career. This is because loyalty and dedication to a job were more important than their personal happiness.
I doubt anyone was talking about personal fulfillment in their generation.
I remember many occasions when one or the other wasn’t happy about their jobs. Yet, they stuck with it and kept going.
For the first 25 years of my career, I tried to live up to this expectation. After all, it’s what I believed was expected of me if I wanted to be a good person.
Yet, for 25 years, I went from job to job, with my longest tenure being a little over four years. I’d take each job with the optimism of believing this is the one I can stick with.
Then, in 2011 I lost my mind, quit my job, and struck out on my own (i.e. I became self-employed.)
While most of that is true, the ‘lost my mind’ part is not.
The opposite is actually true, although I got the sense my Mom thought I had lost my mind (she was supportive and was never critical of this choice.)
It wasn’t a conscious thought at the time, but I had decided it was time to stop living up to other people’s expectations.
Six years later, my Mom told me, “I guess you can make a living from this coaching thing.”
Ummm … yes!
It might be easy to blame my parents, teachers and others for setting expectations for me. (I don’t blame any of them)
However, trying to live up to someone else’s expectations is actually something I create. We all create the expectations we live up to as it’s in our wiring. These expectations often appear in the form of things we feel obligated about.
In other words, there are two sides to this equation:
The first side is how we unconsciously teach others about the expectations we believe are true.
My parents did it. People I’ve worked for did it. I do it. And I know you do it too.
The problem with these things is that the expectation we’re teaching is so pervasive that it’s difficult to see it for what it is: a story we’ve made up.
The other side of this equation is how these expectations take root and impact our work, lives, and mental health.
When living with an expectation, it becomes easy to slip into a mindset of obligation.
While you will get things done and live your life from obligation, you will fall short of your full potential.
What might be different if you didn’t live up to all of those expectations?
Pay attention to places where you are living up to an expectation. There are some clues in the words you speak:
- “I should …” is one of the most apparent pointers to the places you’re living up to someone’s expectations of you.
- “What will other people think of me?”
- “Being a good citizen means you have a post-secondary education and a stable job.” — it’s the evaluation of what it means to be a good citizen.
Once you spot the expectation, it’s time to start breaking it apart.
What would be different if you didn’t try to meet that expectation?
What’s important about to you? (keep asking yourself this question until you go deep enough to find your answer)
What do you really want?
We all live with them. Maybe it’s time to focus on living up to your own expectations for yourself.
You’ve got this.