“Managing everyone’s expectations is exhausting.”
This sentiment came to me at a random point yesterday while in my room. I can’t even pinpoint what happened that led to this thought but I guess it’s just a thought that tends to linger silently in the background. Like when the air conditioner is on but you don’t notice that it was making a sound until it turns off.
Being in your 20s can seem like a constant comparison game. We’re all starting out our different paths but we’ve somehow come to believe that we need to take the same steps to get to our different destinations. Our parents have expectations along with our siblings, our friends, our extended family, and our mentors. They all have an opinion of what they believe we should be doing.
All of the noise can get pretty distracting when trying to figure out what we actually want to do during this coveted life stage.
Add in the prevalence of social media and having 24-hour access to our peers’ highlight reel. *Scroll* someone just started a Masters program at Stanford. *Scroll* another person just got engaged. *Scroll* someone just started their dream job. *Scroll* someone just had a life changing vacation in Greece. *Scroll* *Scroll* *Scroll*
All of this piled on top of each other can really make you feel like you need to re-evaluate your life and get and do all the things that you see your peers enjoying and hear your loved ones encouraging.
I’m not saying that being inspired to travel, broaden our horizons, find love, gain higher education, or pursue fulfilling employment are negative things in and of themselves. Of course not. The issue comes in when we feel pressured to do and have all of these things solely in an effort to keep up with our peers or to please others. We become obsessed with the appearance of our lives and minimize the actual experience – how it feels.
It can seem like what we need most when crafting a fulfilling life is blinders to what everyone else is doing.
They’re just distractions to our own progress. I notice it in myself. I’ll have a to-do list for my day including posting to my blog and mapping out tasks for my larger screenwriting dreams and how do I waste half of the day? Scrolling through twitter or Snapchat or Facebook. Not only am I being distracted from my own goals but I also start to feel bad about myself if I see someone doing something that I want to be doing.
Sometimes it takes getting still and quiet. Separating ourselves from the noise, from the expectations, from the cravings whose exact sources we can’t identify. When we’re overwhelmed with external pressures, we need to look within and ask ourselves why we want the things we think want. Why do we want to buy more shoes when there’s nothing wrong with the ones we have? Why do we want to get that Masters degree? Why do we want to travel to that country? Why do we want that particular job?
If there is an alignment in our spirit then the desire will most likely be validated easily – either by a feeling in our gut or with logical reasoning based in our values. If we struggle to come up with a reason that doesn’t involve pleasing other people then it’s possible that it’s not really our desire to begin with.
Our 20s are a ripe time for getting to know ourselves and getting in touch with who we are as individuals – finally free of the family and institutional influences that define our formative years. During this life stage, we have the opportunity to learn what we like, what we don’t like, who we attract and why, who we admire, what our values are, why we do things a certain way, how we want our lives to look, and who we ultimately want to be.
During this self-exploration, it’s pertinent for us to define what our personal version of success looks like. On a societal level in Western culture, it is agreed upon that most people want to be wealthy, good looking, and successful and a good amount of people are willing to achieve those goals by any means necessary – even if they have to forsake their individuality in the process. But maybe you don’t want to be wealthy more than you want to feel fulfilled and maybe painting fulfills you or working on cars or doing gymnastics. Maybe you have to make some compromises to make a living and honor the projects that fulfill you. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. Maybe you have to take the longer but more enjoyable road.
It’s as simple as deciding what is important to us, regardless of what others say, and crafting our lives around what we decide.
We can feel good about our own journey when we come up with our own definitions of “success” and “progress” so that we’re not forced to adopt the definitions that others create. We’re all different people and while we may ultimately all want to be happy, that goal will materialize for different people in different ways.
Accepting that it’s supposed to look different and coming to peace with that will free us of comparison’s grip.
Overall we’ll benefit from giving ourselves grace and being gentle with ourselves. It’s easy to beat ourselves up and feel guilt or shame about where we are – either compared to where others are or compared to where we want to be – but life doesn’t work on our timetable and may very well have a better plan for us than we could ever imagine.
The best that we can do is accept what currently is – the present moment. Accept the process. Accept where we are now and feel good about the steps that we’re taking.
Don’t let comparison paralyze you. Keep showing up. Keep trying. Know that what you’re working towards is getting closer with every practice, every challenge, and every failure. As long as you keep showing up. Try to enjoy the journey. Your time will come.
(Photo source: danielodowd.tumblr.com & timbllr.nl)