Thoughts On Sunday: What To Do When You're Not Where You Expected To Be

Sunday, 21 September 2014
We’re no strangers to expectations.

I’d go as far as to say we’re born with expectations; I think it’s a human condition. When our parents had us, they didn’t necessarily have us with a purpose in minds, but they had hopes and expectations for us, they foresaw bright and glowing futures, usually hidden in the “You can be anything you want to be” uttered so encouragingly. We hit school, and there are expectations that we’ll meet the average grades and hopes that we’ll go far beyond that, from both family and the schools who are proud at their academically brilliant students, or those who have a certain extra-curricular flair. We graduate and we move on to the “adult world” and our bosses have expectations in monthly targets, and hopes in the shape of the company’s overall aim, the people we date hope we’ll turn out to be someone they can come to genuinely like, in the same way that some of us romantics are always on the look out for The One.

There are the hopes and expectations others have for us. Then there are the hopes and expectations that we have for ourselves. 

I remember vividly how ambitious I was when I was eight years old. It was at that time that I discovered ten-year plans, and I set about making my own. In the space of a couple of months I decided I wanted to either be a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist or a writer. I was still perfecting my English at the time, and an invitation to the Headteacher’s reading club led me to discover the wonders of Harry Potter, and I decided I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling. Of course my parents wanted me to be prudent, and whilst applauding my prestigious choice, told me I should still have a career to pay for things whilst I was still in the process of writing my best-sellers. I fixated on one day attending Cambridge University, even ordering a prospectus online, so that I could remember to keep my feet on the ground. Yes, one day I was going to sell millions of books worldwide, but first a degree at one of the top universities.

It’s laughable now, because that’s just not how it went. When you’re eight years old, you can’t quite grasp how changeable life is. Even though we’d just moved countries, that hadn’t hindered my belief in unwavering stability, or maybe that’s why I clung on to it so much. I believed that if I had a plan, I could stick to it, and that would be it - my life would be sorted. I didn’t factor in that my self-esteem would take several hits over the course of the next ten years, and by the time it came to applying to Cambridge, I would no longer believe I had what it took to do it, let alone do what I had always dreamt of doing: write.

One of the things I’ve struggled with since turning eighteen was the realisation that I had fallen short of my own hopes and expectations. It’s easy to shut out other people’s disappointment, but your own disappointment often that resonates ten times louder, and if you don’t find a way to work through it, it can eat at you, keeping you awake at night and stopping you from moving forward. As I work through another setback, and stare my mid-twenties in the face, I realise that I’m going to have deal with my own expectations, and share with you some thoughts on how to get past this, in case you’re going through the same thing.

Accept that you are where you are in life and that there is nothing wrong with that.

Often we are unable to accept our position in life because we’re comparing ourselves to others who seem to be doing much better. In this case, it’s a case of accepting that where you are in life compared to where you expected to be, is acceptable. It doesn’t mean you’ll never reach your dreams and goals. Sometimes we have to adapt to the reality of life, and as long as you don’t give up entirely, you’ll find a new path. All roads lead to Rome, right? So don’t be so hard on yourself.

Write a new plan.

If you’re like me and you love your ten year plans, then write a new one. Don’t dust the old one off and try and make it adapt – keep the end goal, but sketch a different path. Think of it like how a GPS gets you to your destination. You put in your final destination, and it maps the quickest way to get there. When you hit a road block or you take the wrong turn, does the GPS simply turn off and say ‘Well, I was supposed to take this road and now I can’t there’s nothing left to do?’. No, it simply says ‘Recalculating’ and then you’re off again. Constantly adapt your plans to the obstacles life throws at you or to take the wrong turns that we, as fallible human beings, are likely to take. And accept that like a GPS, if you try and stick to your plan even when it’s stopped feeling right, you might end up in the wrong place or driving straight into a river.

Get on with it.

I’ve spent five years mourning the loss of that initial plan. Five years in which I could have been recalculating my route and getting to where I want to be on a new path. Now I’ve accepted it, and I have new plan, the only thing that’s left to do is to get on with it. There’s no use dwelling in the past or the what-ifs. Life has already happened, and each day will keep happening no matter what we do, so the best thing to do when we’re not where we thought we’d be, is to look at where we were going in the first place, and get going.

Remember you’re alive, and that’s all that matters.

It's easy to get bogged down in expectations, in what you should be and what you should do but honestly, all that matters is that you're alive. Being alive means that regardless of where you are or what you have achieve thus far, you still have the possibility to achieve more and work towards what you want. One foot in the other until you can't. Everything else? Doesn't matter.

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