Monday, February 13, 2012


We live our lives trying to meet expectations: Our parents', our friends', our teachers,' our employers', society's. We are constantly, either openly or subconsciously, made aware that in almost every aspect of our lives we are being held up to certain standards and measured by how well we meet them.

Expectations drive us. They make us take action when we might, left to our own devices, prefer to do less, or nothing. We often accomplish more under pressure, and as a result we grow as individuals, accomplishing things we might otherwise never had even thought we could achieve. Even the unfair expectations can promote growth. It isn't the reaching the goal; it's the trying.

But of all the expectations placed on us, the most difficult to meet are often those we place upon ourselves. Unrealistically harsh self-expectation can easily erode one's sense of self-worth, and I have been subject to them all my life, to my great anguish.

When we're younger, external/physical self expectations generally rule. The pressures of society to be physically attractive fuel multi-billion dollar industries, and are taken full advantage of by advertisers, television, and movies, which stress physical beauty, flawless skin, perfect teeth, slim (for women) and muscular (for men) bodies. Well, of course you have to have these things: beauty and physical perfection look out us from every magazine and television screen. If you aren't one of the beautiful people, there is something obviously wrong with you--you are clearly inferior. Social graces are also demanded--one must stand out, but in a positive way. Just look at those TV ads where all the beautiful young people (heterosexuals all, in case you hadn't noticed) are having a simply marvelous time being beautiful and graceful and full of confidence, exuding poise, charm and pheromones. You don't? Then what good are you?

For most people, as we mature, expectations tend to shift from the physical to the more cerebral, and we judge ourselves more on the kind of person we are on the inside. This is healthy, but again, the tendency is often to fall short of expectations. While I can't speak authoritatively for anyone other than myself, I know this is very true.

I expect myself to be so much more as a person than I am...and probably more than I could ever be. Still, I expect myself to be more worldly and well-versed, able to speak with confidence on nearly any topic. I expect myself to be far more kind and understanding than I am, more generous of my time, more concerned with important issues of society and more active in them, more courteous and aware of the simple needs of others, and far less self-centered, less short tempered and dismissive than I frequently am.

All this is rooted in the fact that because we live our individual life totally within our self, everything we experience is filtered through only one set of eyes and one mind--our own. We know about others only through observation and assumption and while we often assume we know what's going on inside their individual selves, we cannot.

I am truly convinced that there is some vast, largely subconscious collective awareness of this, which is one of the reasons we developed speech and writing, to pass what knowledge we can to others of our species and to future generations. And with this comes expectation, based on commonality of behavior and knowledge.

We create laws and social rules and expect others to follow them. To our great credit, and subconscious awareness of our commonalities, most of us do. But each of us, as an individual, is not "most." We must therefore weigh the expectations imposed on us as members of a species of seven billion members, against our individual reality, our individual personality, our individual beliefs. The fact is that every one of us differs from everyone else, but it is, again, the shared commonality which is the focus.

We have little control over what others expect of us, and we often try too hard to live up to them. But it would be a good idea for each of us to take a look at our own self-expectations and weigh them on the scale of reality. We all should expect ourselves to be better than we are, and to work toward that end. But we should look on our individual expectations as balloons to elevate us above who we are, and recognize when they are sledgehammers trying to pound us into preformed molds.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Wholeheartedly agree. Self-expectations are the worst. I fully admit to struggling with that on a daily basis. The only thing I've ever made headway on are the expectations with an employer. Yes, they expect quite a bit from us, but I've turned it around on them and held them to expectations, too. They don't like that and it tickles me.

But that may just be the sadistic little writer in me.