Learning To Be Yourself: Self-Expectations vs. Reality

Most of us live in a fast-paced environment and society, where we’re taught from a young age to strive, to do the best in everything we tackle academically and for the most part – to do so with determination, passion and perseverance. Yet, gradually we start to enter social pools where everyone else is just as accomplished as us, if not more and inadequacy starts to set in. Imposter’s syndrome, no doubt, hits us hard. We start to wonder if we’re even smart enough to be there. We take it really hard on ourselves when we mess up, when we achieve a poor grade and sometimes, we cry for days on end about the fate of our grade in certain classes. We’re taught to aim for A’s and also take part in a very lively extracurricular life too, which could include athletics, stress relievers like yoga and cycling, being the president and executive of certain student groups and so forth. What we forget to really pay more attention to is developing a proper, healthy and loyal social circle. We often surround ourselves with people who are there simply due to the sake of convenience, serendipity (we’re placed in the same class together) or some sort of random selection like that.

I know, for me, I initially tried to get along with everyone I met. I just assumed that because we shared common interests, we would like and appreciate each other. Yet what really surprised me is that when I made a few social mistakes and faced some harsh social rebuttal towards it, almost everyone from the social circle disappeared and moreover, when I did see them – the way they treated me, talked to me and acknowledged me completely changed. They were more cold and formal. The ‘social masks’ we all put on came off when it came to some of these individuals. I saw envy, I saw dislike but most of all, I just saw a lot of jealousy. Not even towards me, as much as towards their ‘perception’ of who I am.

How we perceive ourselves isn’t always how others perceive us. When it comes to human behaviour, it’s interesting how we do something the best and cleanest of intentions but it can come back at us in a very negative way. We might truly, strongly know and believe that we are kind, caring and generally – a good human being. But the minute we fall under social scrutiny and gossiping/rumours… all that negative sort of social troubles… we start to question everything about ourselves, down to who we are. We start to double guess whether we are what they say we are or whether how we view ourselves is how we truly are.

Thankfully though, this sort of emotional unravelling and rewiring may be exhausting and tiring but it has a positive aspect or element too. Through facing hatred of every sort, we’re forced to ask ourselves a tough question we probably spent most of our lives up until this point (orr up until you started reading this) ignoring: What kind of person have you always dreamt and imagined yourself being? Are you that person? If you’re not (which most of us aren’t), are you truly okay with slowing down and just accepting yourself, your flaws, your imperfections? Are you okay with being more self-compassionate towards yourself? After you think about all of this and maybe jot down some thoughts on your perception and opinion of your sense of ‘self’. Ask yourself another question, if you’d like: ‘Who am I?”.

Everywhere around us, we’re taught to be who others want us to be. At school, the teachers teach us to think a certain way – in line with the education system and curriculum. Later on, in university, we’re taught to think critically (which is very important, yes) but more so, we’re trained and prepared for the workforce… the work world. Then, with friends, they each may have certain first impressions of us and they might even have certain inner judgements contained inside themselves about us. Think about it. With every friend you have, there are likely certain things you dislike about them that you probably don’t directly disclose to them out of kindness, sensitivity and care towards their feelings and ensuring you don’t hurt their feelings. Then alongside friends and their expectations of us, we have the expectations of our parents – which can vary from almost non-existent to very strong. All this aside though, I think the expectations we place on ourselves has got to be the harshest ones we could ever face. We expect a lot from ourselves to the point we can begin to fall apart and give up, lose hope and not have much faith in ourselves.  

This takes us to the most important question we often fail to ask ourselves. Are what we doing at this exact, present moment making us happy? Are we happy with the direction we’re taking in life? We have the ability to change course as we see fit. Some of us believe in fate but that doesn’t everything is entirely up to fate. Our decisions and choices shape who we are. What can we change about ourselves and this life in order to feel better?

I ask these difficult questions because our society defines success as accomplishing a lot and then being awarded and given recognition for all that hard work but that isn’t actually what makes us happy or even feel successful. True success, from someone who’s been both at the top and bottom of the ‘success mountain’ a few times over now, is to have inner peace. It’s be able to sit down and just be mindful of your surrounding, self-aware of your flaws but self-critical to the point of self-harming yourself, grateful for your blessings, emotionally stable and just at peace. Think about it, a lawyer with multiple degrees and a fast-paced lifestyle with constant incoming calls to their phone as they try to sit down to eat dinner with their family may look successful and may face jealousy and envy when they are out and about in the public sphere but when it comes to their private sphere, chances are they are tired, discontent, stressed out and wondering how they’ll be able to keep this up for many more years to come. Whereas, someone else who may not look like they’re that successful to the public sphere and world, may actually be very happy and content doing a few things but doing them really well and being able to then devote plenty of time to nurturing human connections. At the end of the day, it’s the human connections that we take with us to the next world when we leave this one… not wealth, not degrees, not awards, not our social status and knowledge perhaps but the deep, meaningful (non-professional) connections and memories we’ve made with loved ones, our deeds and even our regrets. It’s love that we all reach for at the end of the day, not money, not what grade we got on a paper and who we out-competed but kind eyes, a caring hug, a soft voice and someone who’s willing to accept us for exactly who we are, not who we’re told and who we tell ourselves we should be like by now.

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