Managing the expectations of others and pressures of society
If you could do anything in the world, what would you do? If you could chase any dream, what would it be? Now let’s hear why you’re not pursuing it, because chances are, you’re not.
The thought of following our dreams can be absolutely terrifying. So much so that many never even try. But why? There are endless reasons, and the one we rely on most is a financial one. Maybe you’re buried in debt – school loans, medical bills, etc - and it would be irresponsible to take a financial risk. Or perhaps you have a medical condition that costs thousands of dollars each year, hindering you from investing in an idea or going a month without pay or benefits.
Unfortunately, there will almost always be financial gamble involved when taking a risk, but chances are the real reason you’re not chasing your dream has to do with other’s expectations of you, real or perceived.
“She said I couldn’t do it.”
“He'd think I'm dumb if I tried.”
and, of course,
“What will they think if I FAIL?!”
We’ve all heard other people say these things, if not thought them ourselves. But are they meaningful expectations or pressures we put on ourselves? Managing these thoughts along with what we've been told and the expectations of others can be challenging. Especially when the ideas and expectations come from sources we respect, like family. Those around us can be valuable sources of knowledge and advice, even when it's not what you want to hear, so considering the opinions of those close to you is important. But ultimately it's up to you to decide what's best for you.
"Honor thy father, but make your own decisions."
- Paulo Cohelo
Society and culture add yet another source of pressure.
Growing up in the Humble Midwest taught me values and principles I'll forever be grateful for, but the general expectation for one's life is as follows:
1. Graduate high school
2. Go to college
3. Get married
4. Have kids
All in that order and before you’re 30.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking that path so long as you are happy and fulfilled. But for those who don’t feel that lifestyle is for them, many still feel the pressure to follow suit.
I’ve always tended the “push” the rules, but I've also never been able to fully commit to my dreams. Though I graduated high school early and moved across the country to pursue wakeboarding at 17, I still chose to go to college and received a degree in finance, something I wasn't passionate about but figured was a “safe” choice. After graduating, I immediately took a job in commercial real estate, knowing I couldn’t handle a corporate desk job but also feeling the need for a “back up plan” for my creative endeavors. I attended school and started in real estate simultaneous to pursuing wakeboarding and opportunities in TV and writing. Though my intent was to leverage the instability of a career in the entertainment industry, I wound up half in and half out of all my pursuits and thus couldn't excel in any of them!
When you're spread thin, it's tough to shine.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had many amazing experiences traveling the world thanks to opportunities in the TV, film, and action sports industries, and real estate has helped pay the bills, but I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to my creative dreams. I’ve always kept one foot in my “safety plan”, prolonging many of my creative projects and prohibiting me to fulfill my potential.
Don’t get me wrong, being responsible for one’s self should always be a top priority. Yours truly has some serious medical bills to pay year after year, and I've always taken pride in being self-sufficient. But one also has a duty to at least give themselves a chance at fulfilling their dreams. In order to do so you need to be all in. And that's okay, so long as you’re prepared to take responsibility for the consequences should things not go as planned.
We can all come up with countless excuses for not doing something, myself included. The funny thing is that when I think about it, what’s held me back most isn’t what I’ve been told, it’s what I’ve been telling myself.
In recent months, I’ve pushed myself to manage the perceived expectations that hold me back. I've tried to pinpoint the sources of my hesitation and focus on my own voice versus what others tell me or what I think they’d tell me if I told them my dreams. Oftentimes what we assume people’s expectations are is actually competently different than reality.
My friend, mentor, and all around badass, Mike Smith, recently published his first book, Legacy Vs Likes (get it here), and in Chapter 4 he talks about the pressures we feel:
“What’s the excuse bouncing around inside your brain telling you not to try? Whose voice is in your head making you doubt yourself? Is it a parent, a bully, a boyfriend or girlfriend? We all have that voice we allow to tell us we can’t do something, and too often, we let that outside voice become our own.”
– CH 4, 'Legacy Vs. Likes'
To allow ourselves to go "all in", we have to separate our own voice from those of the people around us and the pressures we feel from society.
I’m not encouraging a single mom of four to bet the mortgage on an unrealistic dream, but if you’re willing to work your ass off, deal with the consequences of the outcome (good or bad), and are so passionate about something you can feel it in your bones, I say you gotta give ‘er. No one wants to die wondering.
So, let’s try this again: If you could follow any dream, what would it be? And no matter what you’ve been told, taught, or encouraged to do or not to do, what are you telling yourself?
“If you do what’s safe your entire life, who will you become?”
Thanks for reading and keep on skol-ing,