When you are a child, adults around you often ask: “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. You are not expected to answer properly, no, this questions is really just to amuse the adults. The crazier the answer, the better the reaction. You can be a hot air balloon driver, go on an expedition, be a princess, a space ship leader, a librarian, a police, a superman or a -woman, a pearl diver. Everything is possible, not even this world is your limit. At some point, however, the questions suddenly become more serious, and crazy, imaginative replies do not get big applause or supporting comments. Slowly you begin to feel the weight of the expectation that your family, reference groups and the society is laying on your shoulders.
On the course of life, we face several expectations and wishes on how we should use our lives. In the eyes of the society, the ideal recipe to live one’s life is simple, and yes, a bit harsh: finnish your education, get a job, pay taxes, create new tax payers and perform your life in an orderly way. Work until you are 70, and then you are allowed to do whatever you please for a couple of years. Then, it would be preferable if you could die away and not to become a burden for the public health care system. This is what a good, solid, respectable life looks like. This is what is hoped from us, and this is something we are almost brainwashed to do from the moment we are born.
Also our family and relatives load expectations on us. Usually parents wish for the best for their offspring, and often the safest and the most common option might seem like the best one, at least when it comes to choosing your lifestyle and career path. It might also be that your parents want you to become more than they ever could be, and then, your role is to be an enabler of their unfullfilled dreams. I am the eldest child in our family, and I feel that I have always been very prone to sense what kind of behaviour and choices are approved. This has made me very talented at recogning and complying with expectations.
I have always been quite talented loading pressure and expectations on myself. It was clear to me from a young age that I will get a degree from a university and good steady job after that. Then marriage, own apartment, and then…. I had never thought that far. Maybe I was subconsciously thinking that then I would be ready, complete, happy. At some point, however, I asked myself the question I should have asked for a long time ago: “what will truly make me happy?”.
That question started a process that escalated quickly, like a snow ball when it starts moving. Within a couple of months, I transformed from someone wearing a business suit into a person who is packing vegetables in rural Australia. A business graduate who started to carry vegetable boxes, clean hotel rooms and serve breakfast to tourists. Sometimes it was difficult even for me to grasp this change because I had built my identity so strongly on those roles that I used to have in my old life. It was hard to acknowledge that for some, I was a failure, someone who had lost her potential. I had become someone living against the expectations.
I noticed several changes that started to emerge in my life. First, my own value in my eyes was not anymore connected to the outer signs of success, like a title, education or job. What became meaningful, was my personality and the way I was treating the people around me. Second, I felt that I started seeing the world clearly for the first time since my childhood. I did not perform tasks like an autopilot, no, I started being more present in my life. Third, I stopped putting other people into boxes based on their status. I stop spending time only with my own reference group, and started hanging out with people from very different backgrounds and with very different opinions than my own.
When I let go of the expectations, the ones I had built myself and the ones built by others, I became more free and in that way, happier. I do not claim, however, that this has made my life all easy and joyful. I still have to work every single day with my conscientiousness and perfectionism. Sometimes I question myself and ask: am I good enough and what do other people think of me. I compare myself to others, and find myself incomplete. I fear if I am a failure. I have to explain and justify my decisions daily to others, but even more so, to myself.
I guess in a way, I am insecure. I guess all of us are, if you just look deep enough. I believe, however, that a certain level of incompleteness is an essential part of us humans. Maybe that is the secret ingredient that makes us to strive forward, to develop, to become stronger, wiser, and more forgiving to ourselves and to others around us. Maybe this imperfection makes it interesting to be a human. Letting go of the expectations makes one more free; it will free you to start an inner journey towards finding yourself. For me, this journey has only just begun, but even based on these first steps, I can say that it has been one hell of an adventure.