A dance teacher of mine once asked me, "What are the lowest expectations you can have for yourself?" I hesitated, slightly confused, then mumbled a guess: "Low? Nothing? Failure?" He said, "Perfection."
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to let it marinate to understand his answer. Perfection doesn't exist; when I expect it, I immediately set myself up for failure because the unattainable standard I've set in my mind can never be reached. Therefore, I've unknowingly set the lowest expectation for myself by mistakingly setting the highest.
This was an unhealthy cycle I repeated many times. My ego was crushed by setbacks or missteps. It affected my performance in athletics, academics and relationships.
I began to unravel future scenarios in my mind, hypothesizing failure before I'd even given myself the chance to try. As I got older and sources of humiliation took over my psyche, I tried less and less. I pursued only my strengths, the things I knew would yield a good result.
I still played sports and had some high moments, but I mostly shied away from what excited me. I'd peek through the curtain to watch all others I admired pursuing goals and passions courageously. I sat like a cowardly lion consumed by crippling doubt.
Many of us put way too much emphasis on how we’ll be perceived, on how our mistakes, losses and failures will look in the eyes of another. Fearing we’re disappointing those watching, the reality is we’re upset with ourselves. We project so much into the hearts of others while neglecting to realize it begins and ends within our own.
This pressure comes from fear and insecurities, but if you think about it, it’s quite arrogant to carry an impossible standard for ourselves and not for others. I’d be so kind, supportive and understanding of my friends, seeing them through their tough times and setbacks, while beating myself up relentlessly for any misstep of my own.
Why should I expect perfection and success from myself while holding others to a separate standard?
I shouldn’t. In fact, I shouldn’t place expectations on anyone, not myself, my friends, my teammates, my opponents, my family or even strangers. The fact of the matter is that we can't possibly predict or rehearse; life has a beautiful unpredictability to it.
The root of our unpleasant patterns of stress can be found in expectations. We wake up each morning thinking we’ve got the day all figured out. As soon as we’re wrong, we get stressed. The only expectations that matter are the deep, emotional responses we reveal during the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Resisting change just leads to deeper pain and prolonged discomfort. What we resist persists. The best choice for our happiness is to yield. When we try so hard to fit our lives into this carefully crafted mold, we end up getting everything we think we want but still have an empty feeling in the end.
I understand now that the outside world is free range, a complex symphony with many moving parts that are constantly evolving. My task is to stay grounded and optimistic through it all.
I expect to give my all, to be a gracious loser and grateful winner.
I expect for people to like me, dislike be, ignore me, adore me and everything in between. It’s their business, not mine.
I expect to succeed, to occasionally fail, and I expect to remain the same, kind, loving, weird soul through and through.
I expect to have the strength to reach out to loved ones when I need it. I don't expect them to read my mind and guess when I need their support. I’ll carry myself through what I can and hug my way through the rest.
I expect to be grateful every day, because regardless how my life looks in the eyes of another, it’s a hell of a ride and a gift. I’m throwing up my hands and committing to love during every peak and every valley.
What unfair expectations can you release? Do the standards you place on yourself differ from the ones you hold for others? Do you see how perfectly imperfect your life already is?
When contemplating your worthiness for success and happiness, simply ask, "Why not me?"