Expectations are a funny thing; icebergs that we keep inside. We actively recognise only the tip of the expectations we have about our lives, the bulk run just underneath our consciousness. “But I should” can come from society, from your family, your friends, or even just from some passing comment you took on as a kid and never really thought about again. All of a sudden you can find yourself on the other side of the world, stressing out because you don’t have a dress to wear on a date and you pause and ask yourself – ‘why do I have to wear a dress on a date?’.
The big expectations can be easier sometimes; the I need to have babies, get married and go to university type (possibly not in that order). At least when the expectations are big enough they are easy to recognise. If you are aware they are coming towards you like the brick wall of doom you can make a call on it. You can decide if you accept those opinions from others, or if you want to make your own mind up. Sometimes having a bitchy career counsellor (a big FUCK YOU to the teacher who only gave me two choices in life) or a tactless aunt can be a blessing in disguise; at least you get the chance to argue your way to your own opinion. If it comes in black and white from an external source you can rail against it.
Where the big expectations can be tricky however is when they were never actually expectations in the first place is.
I studied accounting. After university an internship and a year of work I realised what a terrible life choice that was for me. When I talked about my choice to leave the profession my friends and family resoundingly said “yeah, we didn’t know why you did accounting, it never seemed like you”. Thanks team, next time tell me earlier.
My parents never told me they wanted me to be an accountant, they were just stoked I finished school. But somewhere along the line I felt this worldly pressure to succeed, and ‘success’ clearly meant a proper career in a sensible firm. I think I made this pressure up myself; building it from offhand comments, assumptions about my sisters career and the promise of a three piece suit. I wanted to make my parents proud and thought that “I should” become an accountant. Since this was something that was never explicitly told to me, I never sat down and considered my decision – at least until I had become an accountant and the horrific decision closed round my heart like a grey cloud.
The big expectations you at least have a hope in catching out, but the little ones? Good luck. A great example of this (and test of some of your own unconsidered expectations) can be how you react to Lena Dunham. Right now go on her Instagram and take a look at some of her selfies, what do you think? If you find yourself thinking “she shouldn’t have put that up” chances are you have some internalised expectations about how females should be presenting themselves to the world. Just some of those little ‘I shoulds’ that you picked up on the road to being an adult.
Who said you should only post a picture that makes you look skinny? Seriously it is one of my favourite things to watch people who talk about being body confident take a look at Dunham’s pictures and be somehow repulsed by a stomach being on display. Why shouldn’t she post pictures of her body and be proud of them? You can’t claim not to be influenced by Barbie, celebrities and advertising, when you cringe at a photo of a girl with normal sized thighs.
But this isn’t actually about Lena. What does your reaction to her say about how you think about yourself when you look in the mirror? How you think about other people’s bodies will have a direct link to how you think about your own. This little “I should” that you never really considered could be having a daily negative impact on your life every morning when you look in the mirror and hate the way your stomach outline can be seen against your t-shirt.
Looks is a very easy one to elaborate on, but these expectations invade every moment of our lives. Next time you are feeling anxious, stressed or upset about something instead of just considering the emotion (and thinking you are failing) take a look at the “I should” that is driving it. Is it an expectation you are happy to have in your life? Or is it just a little bit of bullshit that you picked up along the way and can happily burn in a bonfire.