Is your true happiness being extinguished by others’ expectations of you?
One of the many stories we allow ourselves to believe is that our happiness is based on fulfilling others’ expectations of us. We might not consciously think of it in those terms, but if we’re going after a job, a physical appearance, a relationship, etc. without actually stopping to ask ourselves “Is this what I really want?” then our pursuits are likely influenced by someone else’s idea of happiness, a belief that we inherited. This conditioning, the internalizing of what we’re expected to do, begins at an early age when we are rewarded for doing what is asked of us, or we receive validation for an action we initially took on our own. This is how we learn many important things from our parents and elders, but we’re also susceptible to taking on old patterns in the process that don’t serve the best version of ourselves. When someone else thinks our life should look a certain way in order for us to be happy, we hear questions like “When are you going to finish your schooling?”, “When are you going to buy a house?”, or “When are you going to have kids?” We hear these questions and, regardless of how we answer them at the time, we internalize these pursuits as things we need to accomplish in order to be happy. Getting the promotion, getting married, having kids - these all have the potential to be unbelievably rewarding life events, but before each decision is made it is our responsibility to be honest with ourselves and ask the question - “Is it what I really want?”
The impact these expectations can have on us
When we hold ourselves to others’ expectations we either end up feeling pressured to do things we’re not really into, or we prevent ourselves from achieving what we’re truly capable of.
We get so caught up in what we’ve been taught is the right way, or what we think we should be doing, instead of paying attention to our own internal compass and pursuing what we truly desire.
We become confused and disconnected from our own lives because we didn’t ask ourselves what we really wanted first.
Validation from others makes us feel like we belong, but by following a prescribed way of life we’re ultimately neglecting our own intuition and becoming more disconnected from ourselves.
We attach our self-worth to ticking off boxes on a checklist that we didn’t even make for ourselves and then the judgements begin - “I’m not good enough because I haven’t achieved this yet” or “I’m not good enough because I don’t want that.”
We feel shameful or embarrassed for having other dreams or goals we want to achieve for ourselves, so we proceed with pursuing what we believe will bring us happiness.
We end up in jobs we don’t like, in relationships with people we don’t truly feel aligned with, buying things we don’t need, and looking for validation from outside of ourselves.
We ignore the things that really light us up, that get us excited and motivated, and are instead left with things in our lives we didn’t want to begin with.
Checking in with what we want
We want to belong, to be accepted, but the pursuit to fit in and meet expectations is not worth sacrificing our true happiness for. If we’re doing things to get someone off our back, to bring the questioning to an end, or just not acting mindfully, then the proper intention isn’t there and it’s not really what we wanted, or when we wanted it. But we always have the opportunity to take a step back, quiet the mind, and really listen to the voice inside of us - that gut feeling, the intuitive guide that we tend to ignore.
“Am I truly happy?”
“Am I doing what makes me happy?”
“What do I REALLY want?”
Once we hear the answers to these questions, we don’t forget them and we begin to recognize what’s in the way, what needs to change, and how we can show up for the things that our soul really craves.
So release all expectations placed on you, whether you identify them as your own or as being set for you by someone else. There are many ways you can go about releasing something, but here are two rituals that have worked well in my experience:
Write down whatever it is you’re committing to let go of on a small piece of paper - whether it be a word or a sentence, a thought or a feeling - then light it on fire. As it burns up, think about what your life can look like without the influence of this expectation and say “I release X, because it is no longer serving me.”
If you’re able to identify who set the expectations for you, or whose life you’ve been struggling to emulate, you can imagine packaging the expectations up in a box and giving them back to that person - because they aren’t yours! You can even express gratitude to the person and/or the expectation for ultimately showing you what doesn’t make you happy.
As you move through any exercise of releasing, it is important to remind yourself that it’s safe, that it’s okay to let go of this thing you’ve carried with you for so long. It might have been a big part of your life and letting go of something familiar like that can be difficult, much like grieving the loss of something important to you. There may be different thoughts or emotions that surface before, during, or after the exercise, but regardless of whether it brings about joy, tears, or indifference, it is important not to place judgements on your experience. By moving away from the expectations of others, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to be surprised by what you’re capable of achieving and how far your creativity can take you, ultimately determining and demonstrating the unique value you carry as an individual. Begin again by determining what actions, big or small, the real “you” wants to take on a daily basis and create the life of true happiness that you want now.
Many of us are part of a society where these external expectations are reinforced in a lot of what we see and hear on a daily basis. If you’re looking for support in navigating how these expectations are showing up for you, then reach out to me and we can dive deeper into them together.
Give yourself permission to show up as the real you today!
Men’s Empowerment Coach