April 23, 2020

Word of the Month: Expectations

Word of the Month: Expectations

“I have low expectations to avoid disappointment.”

Let’s not lie, we’ve all either heard someone say this, or have said it ourselves. And right now, a lot of people are probably glad to have this attitude. Our 2020 vision and all the expectations that came with the new decade certainly did not include a global pandemic...

Paradoxically, expectations can be crippling. They can ruin birthdays, get in the way of relationships, and can give you a low self-esteem when things don’t go your way.

When I was younger, I thought that by the time I was 21, I would have my whole future mapped out in front of me. I wrote two letters to myself – one when I was 7 that I had to open the day before I turned 21, and one when I was 15 that I had to open the day before I turned 20 – detailing exactly what I hoped to have achieved by then and expressing my disappointment in my future self, had these not been accomplished.

SIDE NOTE: As you will be able to see, I have very clearly hidden two of these (sadly they contain names of people who would probably not want to be mentioned). Please also bear in mind that I was 15 when I wrote this!

It’s quite interesting to see the difference in expectations between my 7- and 15-year-old self. I was definitely a lot less demanding when I was younger, and my expectations were a lot more feasible.

Whereas my younger self wanted me to do things like have a blonde friend, and (weirdly) still play with my favourite doll, 15-year-old me demanded that I travel to Australia, get my driver’s license (which, yes, sadly, I have not quite completed), and go to Oktoberfest (which I have actually managed to do!).

I’m quite worried that my 15-year-old self told me that if I didn’t have sex by the time I was 21, I was probably “hideously repulsive”. I’m also slightly sad that I clearly thought that having a “broken heart” was a fundamental rite of passage to becoming an adult.

It’s clear that these weren’t actually MY expectations – society and all the Netflix shows I was watching probably had a real say in the ideas I was entertaining at the time. I do think that when your expectations start to overlap with society’s, they can become quite damaging to your mental health.

Before uni, I genuinely thought that after I graduated, I would know exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I definitely didn’t think my graduation would be postponed, my third year would be cut short or that I’d find myself in “the worst period of employment for graduates”.  

But there are a lot of things I can be thankful for. Having finished my final year earlier than I anticipated, I’ve realised that my studies are far from over. Although I want to be busy next year, I’m in no rush to throw myself into a job that I’m semi-passionate about, get myself on the housing ladder, and live out my carefully planned-out life.

Two years ago, I was at a pub with one of my friends who’d just come out of quite a low period in his life. He told me something he’d heard in therapy: “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’ll be pissing on the present.”

At the time, I never fully appreciated just how relevant the saying would be today. Right now, I have friends who are teaching me that you don’t necessarily have to have a degree to be successful and get what you want.

I know a lot of people are currently worried about their future right now, but we need to realise that we’re so wrapped up in this obsessive need to proceed to the next stage of our life, that we never stop to value what we have in the present moment.

I’ve decided to write myself a new letter this year. It’s going to be opened the day before my 30th birthday (which will be a very, very sad day). I’m not going to set myself insane expectations, and I’m going to be very considerate of my future self’s feelings. Instead of anticipating marriage, money and fame, I’ll set myself expectations that are a little more manageable, and that will make ME happy. I’ve still never been to Australia – maybe after the pandemic’s over?