“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.
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.