Are you living your life for someone else?

I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine- Bruce Lee

 When I Grow Up…

When you were a kid, the answers to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” were limitless and varied. My future career plans included being a pilot, an astronaut, the president of Ireland, a writer, a teacher and a supermarket checkout clerk because I liked the sound of the beeps (a desire which has been satisfied since the introduction of self-scan!) Your answers may have been similarly ambitious or bizarre – but there were at least focused on things you were passionate about as a child.

When we were kids, we didn’t worry about things like getting a mortgage, eating sensible meals, promotions or biological clocks! We saw adulthood as a place of amazing freedom: when you’re an adult, you can cross the road on your own, buy as many toys as you like, go to Disneyland by yourself and eat cake for breakfast.

But somehow by the time we reach our early twenties, this world of vast possibilities has completely narrowed. We go to college, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Then we look for a sensible, entry-level job, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Pretty soon, we think about buying a house, getting a better car, working towards a promotion, watching crap on TV … because that’s what everyone else is doing!

What Happened to our Amazing Life?

Life isn’t supposed to be a dull, day-in-day-out routine where work is just about bearable and evenings are spent going through the motions: eating dinner, watching TV, surfing the net … waiting for it to be time to go to bed, sleep, get up and repeat.

Life should be an adventure, it should be fun, it should have you at the edge of your seat in anticipation sometimes, it should be a leap into the unknown, a chance to grow, and an opportunity to do something that makes a difference after you’ve gone. This is what you wanted at one point in your life! What went wrong? How can you escape from just going with the flow and the life that you’ve fallen into, and start living a life that actually means something to you?

Don’t Let Other People’s Expectations Box You In

Some women have no problems with “peer pressure”: they’re self-declared rebels who have forged their own path since they were two years old without any worries about what mam, dad, nana or their friends might think!

The rest of us though, find that other people’s expectations can begin to rule and run our lives. In some ways, this isn’t surprising at all. As humans, we’re social creatures and if we behave in a way that raising a lot of eyebrows and causes disapproval amongst our social group, we risk being excluded or rejected by our community. An extra factor in this is that girls especially have been raised to be people pleasers: as children, we delighted in praise from parents and teachers, and we continue seeking this as adults.

As I see it, the top three problems with living a life designed around other people’s expectations, are:

  • Their expectations could be based on a very inaccurate impression of you
  • You just can’t please everyone
  • Your values could be completely different from their values

 1.      Their Expectations May Be Based On an Inaccurate View Of You

You family often fail to recognise how you’ve changed and grown over the years. You’ll always be the ‘baby’ to your parents if you’re the youngest or the ‘responsible one’ if you’re the eldest! They tend to label you – and it’s very easy to end up conforming to these labels because you believe them. “Oh, Amy’s always been scatty” or “Lyndsey always was the quiet one” or “Rebecca never could get her point across.”

Remember, you’re the only person in the world who knows what’s happening inside your head. You might have a huge amount of potential that no-one else recognises. Your parents, your friends or your teacher might have decided what you’re capable of – but you know there’s more to you than what they see. If you do have habits and characteristics that you’d like to change, you have the ability and the power to do that if you so choose!

2.      You Just Can’t Please Everyone

I’ve always liked Aesop Tale about “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey”:

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way.  But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster; he lets his father walk while he rides.” So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey.  By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.  The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.  The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey with you and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do.  They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.  They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole.  In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none.”

The point isn’t hard to grasp: trying to please everyone is impossible, and will result in failure to please anyone -especially yourself.

If you’re trying to live up to all the expectations that are coming at you (from parents, friends, and society at large) – you’ll end up feeling miserable because you’re not living the life you want to, and you’ll inevitably fail to meet all the competing demands!

3.      Your Values Could Be Completely Different From Their Values

This is the biggest problem with trying to meet other people’s expectations: they more than likely will have a completely different agenda to yours. Perhaps your mam thinks the most important thing you could do with your life is have a very “important” job, whereas you value creativity, design and art. It’s no wonder that your mam wants you to “make the most of yourself” – but if you follow her advice to become a doctor or lawyer, you’ll be making yourself miserable.

You need to get clear about your own values and priorities: then you can figure out what you want to refocus your life around.

Your parents might think you’ve flipped and that you should be committed. Your friends might laugh at you. Your siblings might call you names and say you’ve sold out. Don’t ignore their advice … but don’t be afraid of what they think of you and how you choose to live your own life.

Why Do You Worry About What Other People Think

Does the voice in your head go something like this?

  • I really don’t want to go out to the pub tonight, but the girls will think I’m no fun if I stay home and they’ll be talking about me when I’m not there.
  • I’m under pressure and struggling with my workload already but I can’t say no when someone asks me to do a favour as they might think I’m mean, a bitch or that I’m struggling with my workload!
  • I know that this relationship isn’t working, but how can I say that to Tom? He’ll hate me and he’ll be devastated. It would hurt me to hurt him so I’ll go with the flow for another month and see what happens.

If it was your best friend saying something like the above comments to you, you would give her a swift kick up the ass; tell her to cop on to herself and to do what she wanted and what would make her happy. “Who cares what other people think!” you would say.

Remember, no-one else in the world knows what is going on inside your head (thank god says you); you can’t read mind and know what’s going on in their heads either. It really is a waste of time to worry what other people will be thinking: more than likely we will be wrong and we end up dramatising everything into gargantuan proportions! Even if other people are thinking negatively about you, what real impact do other people’s negative thoughts have on your life?

I’ve often worried what people will think and I used to hold myself back to a huge degree. I’m self employed and I really struggled to put myself out there when I set out on my own – I was terrified of ‘being exposed’ to a mass of strangers. I had no idea how people would react to a nervous 28 year old giving a seminar on ‘Self Esteem’ and I would dramatise it in my head, playing out different scenarios, each one worse than the last. (In my mind dramas, no-one threw anything at me, but many people muttered under their breath and walked out mid-seminar). If I had allowed worrying what other people thought of me to run my life, I would not be where I am right now. I would probably be living a miserable life always wondering ‘What if?’

I’m going to finish this issue of Progress as I started!

I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine- Bruce Lee

I hope you enjoyed this issue of Progress, that you got something valuable from it and could relate! Don’t forget that the ‘30 days to be your own Fairy Godmother‘ programme is closing shortly! Don’t miss out!

Until next week,