A quick review on social expectations… normalcy and our responsibility to each other.
I thought it may have been a bit of a slump… anyone that has ever persisted with anything (school, work, study) for some time has probably experienced it. You get tired of the same thing… same content and stop enjoying it, perhaps even start to dislike it. So this has been me around pretty much any positive psychology, self-help, motivational content for a little while now. Naturally I started to wonder why…. Which is quite a deep rabbit hole that a) is partly a little personal for the interwebs and b) I would probably bore you with anyway.
What may be of interest to you is one reflection around social expectations. There is a well followed theory out there called the ‘social clock’. Google it for details but basically it suggests that in your society/community there are a range of expectations of us during throughout our life time. Graduation… uni… moving out of home… having a successful career…. marriage… kids.. Etc etc…. The interesting thing behind this theory is that the suggestion that if you are not keeping up with the social clock then you are at risk of feeling like an outcast, and all the emotions and challenges that would come with that feeling – anxiety, depression, anger etc
Which got me thinking about general social pressures… regardless of when in our life they should be happening. To be always happy.. to be successful.. and let’s be honest, in this day and age that is only about being rich. If you are a wife and mother then lets load a few more on; have smart kids, the perfect marriage, a romantic partner and great sex life.. a career of your own (because being a mum isn’t enough right) And for guys, a career and family that you balance without any trouble… power.. intellect. I mean the list of what we are all expected to be can go on and on right.
So I was tired of the constant feed of ‘you should be’…. And I imagine it is overwhelming to most people. I see it in people’s choices every day. There is a constant message out there telling you that you are not acceptable. You aren’t enough. You should be something else. And so we are left with a constant tension and integrity mismatch to what we actually are and what others are expecting us to be. And I truly believe there is no substance to these expectations. We are trading what makes people truly happy for generally unobtainable or unfulfilling expectations. Having a job everyone else approves of but you hate isn’t happiness. Unfortunately your marriage won’t always be great… ask anyone that has been married for more than 10yrs and I promise you there has been something they needed to work through. Your kids won’t be the smartest, well-adjusted most coordinated kids at school; however they will have their own strengths, weaknesses and gifts.
I want to take this full circle with you… if you are with me this far then I have a bit of a slap in the face coming 🙂 You, me… we, are the people setting the expectations. And more than that, we are judging, excluding and competing with others because of it. From every little assumption you make about the person you pass in the street that stops you from smiling and saying hello… to the deliberate choices we make around friends and even family. And let’s be honest, it isn’t even that harmless, and not just about a thought or a judgment. For many, including me, as much as I work on changing it, this translates to behaviour. Choosing not to pick up some rubbish because ‘we have cleaners for that’. All the way through to intolerance, backbiting and open bullying… all because at some point we found a reason to fear or compete. You may dismiss that and I am open to challenges.
Did you know that one of the main factors in successful life change is environment. You yourself are the biggest factor of course, but the support of the people around you is one of the next biggest. So let’s think about that outside of change and just in general. The role of our network in supporting who we are and what we want in life is significant. Therefor the lack of a support system will likely prevent growth and happiness.
I started disliking all the articles and podcasts because I was tired of being told I was failing at being a person. I wasn’t happy enough… didn’t smile enough… didn’t meditate for 5 hrs.. get up at 4am and shout ‘yeah’ at life. I didn’t display the 7 traits of a successful leader and the ‘should be’ was too much.
Could we reflect on why we exclude, judge, or fear. Perhaps adjust and open up, include more, empathise more.