Reality is never provided to us in true form. A tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum crashes into our retinas and reaches the visual cortex of the brain, where it simultaneously bets on blind spots and fills in missing light with its best guess. The human hearing range represents a marginal slice of the whole – the sense we primarily dedicate to communication is easily surpassed by our own pets. Taste, smell, and touch, too, connect us to the world while distorting it. Despite recognition of these limitations, we are no better equipped to perceive true reality and so are still slaves to the senses. Expectations, just like any of the five senses, often help us to make sense of the world, yet they cloud our minds in the process. As much as I would love X-ray vision or the ability to hear dog whistles, however, the limitations of our senses do not significantly affect our well-being. Expectations define not sight or sounds but right and wrong, good and bad, bliss and melancholy. Luckily for us, they are within our control and so we can choose how we view ourselves, our lives, and the people around us.
Consider what you expect of yourself. What are you supposed to be good at? Who are you meant to care for? How are you supposed to act? If you don’t have answers to these questions, craft a personal mission statement and clarify the traits and passions that define you at the highest level. Expectations are the natural product of these values, the application of your self-vision. Understanding what we agree to do and who we agree to be allows us to accurately praise and punish our actions.
In my senior year of undergrad I’ve developed a stronger vision for my career and my life, and along the way I’ve taken on identities and expectations that seem to fit with that vision. After experiencing surprising popularity and success with this blog, I began to think of myself as a ‘writer’ and with that label came new expectations. When I made a new post, I would obsessively check view counts and comments on social media to make sure that my work was top-notch and that I was living up to the label. When I attempted to write I became frozen with fear that the final product wouldn’t live up to the exceptional standard I had imagined. During one of these paralyses in the midst of an impassable writers’ block, I began wondering why I started the blog in the first place and remembered that it was to improve at writing and to express my ideas. I’m not trying to be a ‘writer’, I’m not trying to become some internet sensation, I only wish to improve. Examining my expectations was liberating – the words began once again to flow effortlessly from my fingers because the false stakes were ripped out of my work.
A few friends and I recently decided, on a whim, to enter an international open tournament for League of Legends – an online game requiring a team of five. As a lifelong lover of video games, I’ve never seriously competed and so I took it upon myself to lead the team to a successful run. In considering our composition for the first match, we had to decide whether to play with our usual group of 5, with a wide range of skills represented and a narrow shot at victory; or to recruit some strangers on campus to play for the team and have a real shot at winning. We went back and forth in the discussion between the two and were making no progress toward a decision until a teammate forced us to consider our expectations of ourselves in the tournament. Even with the school’s best players, did we stand a chance of advancing past the first round? Would it be worth it to risk injuring our friendships just to feed our egos? We had lost sight of our original motivation in the quest to see ourselves as ‘gamers’ and serious competitors – all we really wanted out of it was a fun experience. Once we knew that, it was easy to see that entering the tournament with our friends was the only choice. Ultimately, we suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Becker College’s Lotion Squad, but ended the match with laughter and a great story.
Don’t become a victim of unconscious assumptions and find yourself fulfilling the wrong expectations. Free yourself from the labels you never agreed to and find contentment in living the life and identities you do choose.