Everywhere we turn in life, there are expectations placed upon us. From birth, there are ways we are expected to behave, milestones we should achieve, choices we should make.
Who makes these expectations? Other people – virtually everyone we interact with has expectations on what we should do or be.
For the most part, this is all well and good. We are expected to uphold the law and be civilized members of society. If we are invited to an event, it goes unsaid that we are expected to arrive on time.
But what about the more grey areas of life? What about when we don’t want to do something other people want us to do, but feel pressured to do it?
Here are some things we should bear in mind whenever we encounter such situations:
First off, we should recognize that sometimes, expectations are just a figment of our oversensitive and insecure imaginations. The other person may not expect you to do the thing you think he expects you to do (sorry, that was a mouthful). Instead, he may just be offering it as a suggestion or as a piece of advice. It is always good to keep an open mind so that we hear them out, but we should also remember that people don’t give advice based on what’s best for YOU. They give advice based on what THEY would do in your shoes. (At least, this goes for most people.) It may not sound like a big difference, but it is. If you follow their advice and come to regret it later, you’ll only have yourself to blame. Because you did not understand that you and him are different, and what works for him may not necessarily work for you.
Second, if you are sure that it is clearly an expectation, then you must ask yourself: Why do you not want to meet this expectation? To answer this question, it is necessary to do some self-reflection. I am not saying that this feeling of not wanting to meet this expectation is wrong – on the contrary, I think it is an important step to take towards improving one’s self-awareness. Doing so will prevent situations like the one in the preceding paragraph, where you blindly follow advice given by others.
Most probably, you will find that you do not want to meet someone else’s expectation because your interests clash with his. Maybe you feel expected to babysit your nephews on a precious weekend when all you wanted to do was have some me-time after an arduous workweek, simply because your brother’s out of town. To agree or disagree? Or maybe you’re invited to attend the wedding of someone you don’t know very well. To go or not to go?
So assuming you’ve done the first and second steps above, and you’ve concluded that your not wanting to meet this expectation is due to a valid reason on your part (what is valid is up to you. YOU decide. Not others). But you still lack the courage to say no. If you’ve read my previous article on why learning how to say no is important, then you will know that the reason for your fear is that you will become disliked. The need to be liked is very strong in us humans, because we are social creatures. You see apes scratching each others’ backs and grooming each others’ fur? That’s what we are. If you don’t scratch my back and groom my fur, I’ll make you an outcast. That’s how our social fabric works.
To be able to say ‘No’ is not actually a question of having sufficient courage. It, like many other things, can come down to a simple logic test:
First, picture the expectation in your mind and the person who is making the expectation. If you gave in to this expectation, would that make you happy? I don’t think so, otherwise you wouldn’t be considering saying no.
So, if we assume you will be unhappy to give in to this expectation, then we should ask ourselves this question next: Will this person who is expecting us to do this thing still have this expectation, if he knew that we were unhappy to do it?
The above question is very important – you should think carefully about it. However, since I come from an Asian environment where expectations can be very powerful, I know what all of you are thinking: You are thinking that the other person would be disappointed and upset at the very idea that we would be unhappy to fulfill this expectation. “It should be a joy! It should be a privilege, to go along with this expectation! How can you be so selfish?” are all the things that are probably running through your mind right now.
If the above scenario is true, then I’m sorry to say that this person has no understanding of who you really are, and does not care to know who you really are. All this person cares about is that he gets his way, and your happiness be damned. These are strong words, but the harsh truth is that human nature can be very ugly indeed. And if this is true about this person, we must consider and think real hard about why we are letting such a person determine what we should or should not do.
A person who truly cares about you will understand that you are not him. Therefore, his values are not your values. And it is not his right to impose his values over yours. Sure, he may be slightly disappointed that you may not feel or think the same way that he does, but he recognizes that that is precisely what makes you who you are – what makes you a unique and special person in your own right. And he respects that. If you can find such people in your life, hold onto them, for such empathetic people are truly rare.
There are some people who will read everything I’ve said above and conclude that I am simply trying to justify being selfish. These people completely miss the point because they fail to see that there is infinitely more value in something that is done spontaneously, freely and sincerely than something done out of resentful obligation. They may be proud to have done many things for the sake of others – to wear them as a badge of selflessness, perhaps. But the truth of it is that they valued their own face more than being true to themselves. In the end, they wanted to be liked not for who they were, but simply to be liked. And that is a real tragedy, that people are so willing to sell their own personalities and beliefs for the unattainable allure of universal adoration.
I must emphasize in my conclusion that all of this works both ways. Just as we must remember to stay true to ourselves whenever we are faced with external pressures, we must also remember not to become a source of pressure and expectations upon the people around us. When we are thinking only of ourselves, it is easy to fall into this line of thinking where you expect other people to simply conform to whatever you want them to be. So just as we must recognize this ugly trait in the people around us, we must also be vigilant to prevent any manifestation of it in ourselves. In other words, the Golden Rule applies.
If you skipped all the way to the end, or skimmed everything and forgot most of it, here’s the gist: Don’t become someone you’re not. Don’t blindly do what others want you to do. Recognize your self-worth and your rights and your freedom. Dare to be yourself.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
― Bernard M. Baruch