Letting Go of Expectations and Pursuing What You Really Want

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“There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.” ~Jodi Picoult

I grew up with a lot of expectations—from other people in my life and from myself. I had to finish school, do my best, finish college, get married, have children, and be a success in everything I did.

My family was supportive; however, they never really pushed me to get active. I had to push myself, and I pushed hard.

I finished high school, then college with an associate’s degree, then my counseling license, and then my bachelor’s. I got married and had a daughter. But I wasn’t happy.

I didn’t really want to get married. I wanted to be independent and live on my own, and I wasn’t sure that this person was “the one.”

I was attempting to follow the expectations I’d set for myself.

My oldest sister is the wisest person I know, and she knew that this wasn’t right for me. Still, I was always stubborn, so despite others telling me not to do it, I got married anyway.

I wanted to be a success, and being a success meant living up to my own expectations.

I was supposed to be married at twenty-three, whether I wanted that or not.

I couldn’t get a divorce because I would have had to admit that I was a failure. My expectations were stopping me from actually living life.

I wondered if I could really complain. He was a good husband and father. One would think this would be enough to stay in a marriage even if I didn’t want to get married to begin with.

One day I realized that I needed to be happy, and decided to drop the belief that I’d be a failure if I got a divorce. So that’s what I did.

I’ve learned that some relationships are like milk. They go beyond the expiration date, and eventually they turn sour.

Sometimes my old self wants to be mad and guilt me for “giving up,” but the new me says, “You’re courageous to stand up and do something that’s scary.”

To do that, I needed to get in touch with what I really wanted and not worry about what others thought about me.

If you’re also living a life you don’t love because you think that’s what you should be doing:

Be true to yourself.

Put yourself first because you cannot care for anyone else unless you care about yourself. Don’t worry about what others expect of you; think about what you really want for yourself. Letting go of expectations (self-imposed and from others) will set you free.

Be honest with yourself about what’s possible for you.

You can do more than you think. I was honest with myself that I could own a house without a spouse. I had a vision of my future and I didn’t need to stay in a situation I did not want.

Set goals you can accomplish.

Someone with unrealistic expectations will set a nearly impossible goal and give up before they start because of doubt. Set realistic goals, based on what you really want, that you believe you can obtain.

I knew I wanted to complete my bachelor’s degree but gave myself a year break after completing my counseling license. If I pushed myself for a goal I was not ready for, I could have given up before I even started. Based on my time and resources, I knew I would set myself up for success if I didn’t rush.

Learn to celebrate every tiny victory.

Be proud of your small daily accomplishments rather than getting self-worth from big accomplishments only.

For example, I needed to give myself credit for saving up money for my own house instead of waiting until I closed on a house to commend myself. Giving yourself credit as you go will help you stay motivated to keep working hard toward your goal.

Ask for help.

Don’t try to do everything on your own; you’ll get burnt out. Even if I know I can do it on my own, I ask for help. It’s a healthy balance between independence and depending on others. Asking for help also can get you outside of yourself so you can check where your expectations are.

You have to have bad days to enjoy the good.

Not every day will be a good one, but we wouldn’t know what a good day looks like unless we experienced bad ones too. When I have an exceptionally bad day, I tell myself, “Tomorrow can only be better!” When I have an exceptionally good day, I store it in my mind to remember later.

I believe most things are possible if you put your mind to it. Being honest with yourself about what you really want will allow you to make choices that can lead to a happy, rewarding life.

Happy woman thumbs up image via Shutterstock

About Lindsey Haug

Lindsey Haug is a licensed clinical substance abuse counselor/social worker who specializes in addiction counseling in the prison population. Out of the office she is a mother and aunt who loves crafting and trying new things.

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  • Hey Lindsay,

    I use to try to do everything that was expected of me but it just got to the point where it just wasn’t working out. I don’t see how people can manage doing this for their entire lives. But one thing is for sure and that it’s not healthy for your spirit.

    I figured later in life that it my parents and other older relatives that looked after me are there to guide me in this life but I make the ultimate decision of how my life. I was going to do that was fulfilling to my spirit despite what others may say. There’s still that level of respect for others but also you shouldn’t feel like you’re incarcerated by their opinions either.

    Great post Lindsay! Have a great rest of the week!

  • Love this article. I think many of us went through the ‘this is what I am supposed to do’ motions in our 20s and eventually realized that it was often someone else’s expectations, rather than our own. My favorite piece of advice is to celebrate tiny victories! I may only have two new Twitter followers today and sell one book, but I’m excited;-) Thanks for the share!

  • Aria Naples

    I find the acceptance of what is, the most important starting point. Once I accept where I am, then moving forward becomes possible. In essence it is like you say, letting go. Once you let go, no more expectations. Then room for some happiness.

  • I’m still here

    All women are daughters

  • Dawn Ford

    I love tiny buddha

  • Makayla

    I get stuck between “I should/need do it” and “I want to do it”.

  • Guest


  • N T

    I come from a very difficult family. They’re all extremely successful, but they’re very difficult people. I’ve been recently realizing it and fighting it, and realized I’m kind of like them. It’s affected all my relationships. Its like I go into each relationship with someone I think I can change or improve. After a few months, they get tired of it because I won’t accept them for who they are and always trying to change them. To me, they are legitimate reasons and great points, but to them and close ones, its not. I can’t tell if my issue is always attaching myself with someone I can change, or if its just me always trying to improve (myself and others, and it comes off as difficult). There is a lot of… “Why don’t you do this…” or “so.. isn’t it better if …”

    Does anyone have any ideas about this? Any books or articles you’d recommend?

    Thank you all!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I remember my mom wanting me to attend college in a different city, just so I can gain the experience of being independent. So, I paid the application fee, filed the paperwork with financial aid, and sent the transcripts. I got accepted until I realized that it wasn’t something that I wanted. I was fed up of being told what to do, and wanted to be in control of my own destiny. In order for me to do that, I had to come clean by confronting my mom. Honestly, I felt better telling the truth.

    I don’t think my mom will ever understand what it feels like to be a college student. Going to school is expensive, and I wanted to cut corners by living off-campus instead of living in the dorms. My best friend went to college in a different state, and had to share an apartment style dorm with other roommates, which is something that I’m not too thrilled about. My mom wished that I could have been like my best friend, and went to college in a different city. That to me was insulting, since I was being compared to her. Besides, my best friend’s parents didn’t force her to attend college elsewhere; it was her decision to make. I respect her decision, but I wish that my mom would have respected my decision.

  • Dawn Woodbury Antigua

    I found myself in a very similar set of expectations holding me in a marriage I entered at 23 too. Divorce – the “D” word feels like failure for so many, perhaps all who go through it at some point. Everyone experiences break ups though, it is a part of finding a good fit. I remember realizing about 20 months after my divorce “I am happier now than I ever was with a partner, so why am I intent on finding someone? Enjoy your life- it’s great!” Friends and romance have flowed in and out, but with an expectation focused on joy rather than preset mile markers, it has allowed for a far more peaceful, expansive, and dream-reaching life. We can climb higher than we ever imagined if we will dare to climb above the clouds and explore beyond the world we know. Thank you for sharing your story and this great reminder to live the life we truly want!

  • I also get stuck between “I want to do it” & “I should/need do it”.

  • I love your perspective on this! great work..There’s nothing like getting rid of those false expectations, finding your truth, and coming alive!