A client of mine was exhausted by the expectations put upon him and frustrated by the lack of time he had for himself. He’d been to medical school and had worked hard to climb high in his career, buy a nice house and provide for his children. From the outside he seems to have it all. He feels like he should be happy, grateful and fulfilled, but often he feels resentful, hemmed-in, out-of-control and guilty.
I asked him about these expectations that were being put on him. After chatting it through, he realised most of the expectations were coming from within. He believed he should achieve in his career (even though his soul was clearly crying out for something else). He believed he should feel grateful for all that he has (though in reality he was feeling deeply unsatisfied).
I think many of us at some stage in our lives think, “This is not what I had planned.” Whatever our age, when we evaluate where we are and how we got here, we often find a distinct gap between our dreams and reality.
So often our paths are dictated by others; from the subjects we study at school, to the career we choose, we are often taking direction from our parents or our peers. Some people react against this sort of parental influence and end up doing the opposite just to be rebellious. This can end up being equally dissatisfying as the final destination still has very little to do with who we truly are or what we truly want to do.
For some, the influence is far more insidious; subtle behaviour reinforcement can manipulate us into doing what’s acceptable to those around us. As children we learned through trial and error what to do to earn a favourable response. Maybe certain ways of being, topics of conversation or activities were very subtly judged as ‘not good enough’, so we quickly learned to avoid them.
Of course, this behaviour modification is a vital part of growing up and functioning in society. Learning the ‘rules’ of adult behaviour is critical, yet there’s a risk that the uniquely creative spark of ‘self’ can be suppressed along with everything else.
Is there a part of the real you that’s been lost along the way? What spark of self might you be stifling? Without the expectations of others imposed upon you, what is your answer to the question: “who do you want to be?”
Notice who you’re being when you’re answering the question; are you approaching it as a parent, teacher or peer group? Are you allowing ‘accepted convention’ to censor your answer? If you’re being ‘the real you’ does your response change?
Play around with different examples (and maybe with different methods of recording them — writing, typing, speaking) and notice any differences that come up.