“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.”
This is the third and final piece in a series on expectations. Read the others if you want to!
Expectations are put on us in all kinds of ways. Parents, friends, family, country, society and more will all dictate your choices and how you behave. Trying to understand the why of what you do is important.
The famous “mid-life crisis” is all about expectations. This is when you grow old enough to realize that you followed the path dictated to you and you realize that it was unrewarding or not satisfying. In a sense, it is discovering that you have been betrayed. The observer may sniff and claim that you are reliving your youth by (anything) buying a fancy car but that is not true. It is a rejection of the way you were lured into behaving for many years.
Look at the wonderful mother line, “go to school, be a dentist, get married, have babies”. It is a classic! In her case, it might be totally selfish; she wants grandkids to love her. Yet, this burden is put on everyone of us and I question if we ever question it. It isn’t always getting married, there are military families and education families and family businesses. All are difficult things to break.
Expectations masquerade as standards. We know that there is a standard for many things like being a good soldier or teacher or father or student. Expectations dropped on you can seem like a standard to live up to. Typically, when someone breaks that expectation, he will still rise to a standard. Say, he refuses to be a dentist but instead becomes a lawyer or doctor. Thankfully there was some agency of choice but, as you see, not really.
I remember a time around Christmas some years ago. I was at the mall on the second floor. Looking down at the crowds, they looked like schools of fish! Everyone going the same direction, weaving around things and then swinging around to come back. Every individual will tell you that they were on their own unique quest but clearly everyone was the same.
We have a herd mentality. This does not mean that we are meek sheep. But we do feel compelled to fit in. This is why breaking expectations of all kinds is so darn hard. The group will feel the need to “put him in his place”.
Let us imagine someone growing up with the expectation of going to college and that person rejects that burden. He typically will rise to an equal standard of going to college, maybe join the military or learn a trade. If he does not, he will be an outcast in his own mind and will defend it. Breaking from the herd always leads to a lonely life. Understanding that you can break from expectations by matching a standard is important; rejection of all can lead to a bitter life.
It is very hard for us to break from expectations. Hearing about potential is a bitch. The pressure on you and I is enormous and we need to understand if it our choice and wish; otherwise we may face a crisis in the future. And we can also feel the misery of failure when expectations put on you are too high: life is unfair, we know that.
The “why” is so crucial to living a profound life. We do live with other people, even if they are neighbors; we have to live up to certain expectations. But, please think about what you are doing. If you are watching football because your friends are watching football but you hate football; rethink what you do! If you are eating cheesecake made of soy because your wife put it in front you, say something! If you find yourself in a job that you hate, find one that is different but has the same standard.
Again, expectations masquerade as standards. A standard is an ideal that we can imagine and we all kind of agree on, an archetype. The expectation is like a false mirror because we hear one thing, imagine the result and then act. Again, most of the people who put expectations on you don’t realize that they are doing it — it is that we are wired to hear it loud and respond.
Another way to look at it is that expectations are like embarrassment. We fear embarrassment, it is the worse. We remember major embarrassing moments years later with a kind of horror. But, the people who saw you embarrassed may not have even noticed and surely don’t remember at all. That is how powerful expectations are!
Finally, a word on false expectations. You are not responsible if someone expects a thing from you but you don’t know it. Don’t feel guilty when you hear, for example, “We’ve been married for ten years and you don’t celebrate our first date”. False and hidden expectations are unfair; don’t respond with anything but honesty. All of that stuff is a topic for another day.
I imagine my funeral when a sibling says, “Tsk, he should have seen the doctor sooner.” My goodness, expectations to the grave! I promise you that if I attend yours that I’ll say what a good person you were, how it was fun to be with you and how your presence on this planet was a blessing!
Live up to expectations because you have to. Find the choice within those expectations to live a well-lived life. Question your every motive and then decide how to act: for you.