Thursday, November 10, 2011

great expectations

Your parents expect you to finish school. Your teachers expect you to do your homework. Your friends expect you to stick up for them or maybe just to answer their texts. Your girlfriend expects you to hold her hand in the hall or your boyfriend expects you to let him sneak a kiss in the movies. So before you get too overwhelmed by all the things you have to do and all the expectations people have of you to do them, take a minute to evaluate what it means to have expectations.

The Good
Some expectations are good. They motivate us to do our best work, even if we don't really want to. Think of your favorite teacher ever. The respect you have for them makes you want to work harder in that class. The most typical example of good expectations are from your parents. They want you to succeed in all that you do - school, sports, arts, and social life (even if they don't always seem to concentrate on that last one). Expectations can inspire you and encourage relationships, but there isn't really a set list of good expectations. They are always changing with context and even the best expectations can change in a blink. Just be sure to behave in the same way that you expect of others. Otherwise, you're just a jerk. It's one of the oldest rules of humanity, you know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Good motivators get you out of bed in the morning, like coffee or your dog. On most days, they will slip by unnoticed; you'll get out of bed and start a routine. There are days, though, when these motivators seem like impossible tasks. If you ever feel that way, there is a good chance you're feeling depressed.

Depression is not always the clinical study those prescription drug commercials make it out to be. Depression is a natural part of life: some days are just worse than others, sometimes we are sad for seemingly no reason. Being able to notice the ways you respond to expectations can be a guide to navigating tumultuous emotions.

(I unabashedly stole this from a fantastic blog, Hyperbole and a Half):

The Bad
Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? Of course you have. This big cry baby would cry all the time. At first, his friends were worried, but they soon realized he was faking and every time he'd come crying to them they expected him to be faking it. This is what you might call a bad expectation. Have you failed every math test? Guess what your teacher expects for the next one. When you talk to a girl you like, do you tease her? Guess what all the girls expect from you. Have you been grumpy for a week? Your friends are probably steering clear of you.
Bad expectations come from bad habits. If you notice your friends, family, or teachers expecting you to do something that you think is beneath you then take a minute to look at your habits. Have you been slacking in your responsibilities? Sometimes we don't realize we've backslid - even our parents and closest friends might not be able to pinpoint it - until we examine the expectations people have of us.

The Ugly
If your friends all jumped off a bridge, would you?
Well...that depends. Is it every friend in the world I've ever had? And how big is this bridge? Maybe if all my friends jumped, the pile would be so high it would be more of a hop for me.
My mom would drive me crazy when she asked that question, so I would drive her crazy with a pseudo-philosophical response. It illustrates ugly expectations, though. When you're a teenager, your friends are your main focus. You are going into society alone for the first time and trying to figure out what you like and don't like, just experiencing as much as you possibly can after years of being coddled. How do you know drugs are bad if you've never tried them? Why should I listen to my instinct for some things (stranger danger) but not others (exploding sexual frustrations)? It can be difficult to have any expectations of yourself at all because you have never encountered some of these things before, so you try to match your frame of reference with your peers. Things get confused when everyone is comparing themselves to everyone else, and an unrealistic ideal becomes your main priority.
Confused? Let me give an example.
Every post-pubescent human alive is obsessed with sex in some way or another. We pretend like we aren't in polite society, but we are. And why shouldn't we be, it is the very basis for our existence! Adults tell children all sorts of stories using crazy metaphors to try to explain it without being explicit, so it's no wonder that by the time you hit puberty you are just dying to find out what it's all about. Adults expect kids to know nothing about sex and to not have sexual feelings. This is totally unrealistic and counterproductive.
The other extreme is almost worse! Our opinions about sex are formed on rumors and suspicions, awkward encounters and (most of all) pop culture. Sexy singers and steamy movies form our idea of an ideal. It isn't until much later that we realize this is totally unattainable.
Parents and teachers expect us to never have sex. Our friends expect us to be sexperts. There is hardly any room for a middle ground between these two conflicting beliefs, and is one example of the many ugly expectations we face as we grow up.

What are some expectations people have of you? What expectations do you have of others? How have these helped or hindered your relationships?

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