In life, we set for ourselves a multitude of expectations, anywhere from I will walk my dog every morning and evening to I will work ceaselessly to jump through these hurdles and obstacles in order to attain this goal (whatever it may be). Oftentimes we meet or surpass our expectations for ourselves, and quite often we fall devastatingly short. Others in our lives, work, institutions, etc., also impose standards and expectations on us as individuals, and the possible consequences of unmet expectations can be disheartening and dire. Perhaps our greatest critic in the evaluation of personally held expectations and expectations arising from others in our lives is ourselves. Yes, one did not receive the promotion at work they were so ardently striving for. Harsh self-judgment and dwindling self esteem ensue, creating a perfect storm for the deterioration of self and who they perceive themselves to be. The boss or supervisor in the position of offering the promotion feels little or no repercussion on behalf of the employee failing to meet their expectation. That is not to say that the boss or supervisor did not hold an expectation as well in investing in the employee to perform in such a manner. However the main point is this: we hold ourselves to a multitude of expectations, some lofty and unattainable, some feasible and achievable, and at times some far beyond the confines of our abilities to attempt or achieve. When we fail, in our eyes, we challenge our inherent worth as individuals and create conditions for the development of that perfect storm in which all emotions come to head and the blame and belittling of oneself manifest.
I have held many expectations for myself over the course of my lifetime – audition and be accepted into various symphonies, achieve honors in piano evaluations and competitions, graduate valedictorian of my high school class. I have achieved some expectations, while others have fallen to the wayside, as is the natural course of life. I hit a point in my early teens in which I felt as though I was consistently not meeting the expectations I was continually setting for myself. Being valedictorian became an impossibility, as I did not graduate from high school, instead completing the California High School Proficiency Exam, which was a direct result of the worsening of my bipolar symptoms and a steady increase in the amount of hospitalizations I was experiencing. I have so devotedly endeavored to complete college, and have been attempting so since the age of seventeen, but I have not yet met this expectation that I strictly hold, and always have held, for myself. I spent a few years in community college, taking classes on and off while constantly fighting this beast of an illness, and eventually transferred to Portland State University. I spent three years there, nearly finishing my degree, when the hospitalizations (5) began again after six years of dormancy, and I began an unrelenting series of outpatient programs, appointments, ECT treatments, etc. It does not look as if I will be able to return anytime soon, though I pray for fall.
I struggle with self esteem and self worth in my failure to meet this expectation. It is one that I have been struggling and fighting unyieldingly. Surviving my battles has shown that blame and nurturing the feelings of inadequacy are counterproductive and ill-inducing to the mind and the esteem in which we hold ourselves. In this ceaseless process, I have learned something of utmost importance. The outcome of our expectations, our fights – whether positive or negative – is irrelevant. What is relevant is the love and compassion we hold for ourselves in the twisted, convoluted process of developing and setting expectations for ourselves and others, and not falling into the trap of self-deprecation when the results are contrary to what our minds forecasted them to be. Expectations should be a process of growth and not opportunities that come with tags proclaiming either success or failure. While I struggle daily with feelings of frustration and failure, I try to remember to offer myself feelings of love and compassion, and also appreciation and understanding for the path I have trodden, where I currently stand, and the roads I may tread in the future.