“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” ~Raymond Hull
I tell people my 30s were for being married. This is a slight exaggeration, since I’m 39 now and single. However, I married at 30, divorced at 34, married again at 36, and divorced again at almost 39.
Both of the men were great guys. I meant well, each time. I went into each relationship with the intention I’d want to continue it.
To many people this information is no big deal. I certainly didn’t think it was any big deal. However, I’ve been very surprised at how much judgment some people respond with when they learn I’ve been divorced twice.
There was the acquaintance who informed me it was okay to be divorced twice but that three times would be unacceptable (I guess to him?); there was the “friend” who informed me she didn’t want to hang out anymore because I did not “respect” marriage. (I heard from mutual friends she and her own husband split soon after.)
I’ve suspected that people who do respond with judgment do so, in part, because they expect a response from me that I do not offer. I am not ashamed, or embarrassed; I am not regretful, I have no excuses, and I am not blaming the men. I am simply stating a fact and owning it with great comfort.
My theory is that the judgers are uncomfortable because I do not meet their expectations of how I should live my life and how I should feel about my life experiences.
How often are we attempting to live up to the expectations of others without even realizing it?
Through self-questioning and introspection, we can learn a lot about ourselves, and if (or how much) we are unconsciously making decisions based on others’ expectations. Here are 4 suggestions of ways to do this:
1. Ask yourself, “What are the reasons I want this goal or made this decision?”
Sounds simple, right? Actually, it’s sometimes surprising how little we know about the reasons we’ve made the decisions we have. Dig in a little, be inquisitive, and ask follow-up questions to your initial questions.
2. Take the time to check out whose voice you are hearing in your head when you consider the goal.
The voice may be from a parent, friend, or boss. If it’s not your own, that’s worth some examination.
If, for example, you hear your mother’s voice, you can ask yourself how big of an impact or influence she has on your decision. Once that is clear, you can decide if you’re okay with her having that amount of influence.
3. Ask yourself, how will people close to you feel about your statement of (and completion of) this goal?
If the answer is, “They’ll be thrilled!” check that out. It’s possible they are just happy for you and your choices; it’s also possible there are some parts of you that are overworking to please them.
Similarly, if the answer is, “They’ll hate it!” you can check that out as well. If they’ll hate it because you’re doing what you want to do and it’s not what they want you to do, okay. However, you want to pay attention if you are rebelling simply for the sake of rebelling.
Some of us are pleasers; some are rebellers. They are both totally normal behaviors, and not a problem in and of themselves; the trick is to know when we are doing them.
4. Explore anything you do that doesn’t “feel good.”
If you are working toward a goal and consistently feeling like it’s too difficult, or not worth the outcome, or the sacrifices are too much, or… it’s a good time to re-examine (and maybe re-define) what you want, separate from possible influencers.
To clarify, here’s what I’m not talking about:
We set a goal: we see it out in front of us, and we decide on a plan to get there. There’s a good chance we may not enjoy every single step of the path, and this probably won’t feel good.
This kind of “not feeling good” is natural, and not necessarily a sign of attempting to live up to the expectations of others. It’s simply part of the process of following through with the steps necessary to reach said goal.
A massage therapist may love her work assisting clients; she may even enjoy bookkeeping and marketing, but they laundry. In this example, laundry is just a not-so-pleasant but necessary piece of the picture, and does not deserve much attention.
Now if a massage therapist dislikes working with clients, clearly this is worthy of a deeper exploration.
I recently talked on the phone with an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in about five years. While catching up on life, she told me how she’d started her own business, worked her butt off at it for several years, and recently decided to shut down her website and take a “regular” job.
She was understandably excited about receiving a consistent paycheck again and was pleased with her decision.
Her mother, on the other hand, kept talking about the money and “wasted time” spent on her business. Mom was obviously disappointed in my friend’s decision and didn’t mind expressing it.
Here’s a bit of an email I sent her after we got off the phone:
“You did what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it, then when you wanted to take another road, you did. You are a fully-realized human being, and that’s your right.”
I support my friend in her decisions, and her right to live her life in any manner she pleases, free from the expectations of others. Most importantly, though, I do the same for myself.
Photo by sethoscope