Other people’s expectations of you can distort who you really are.
I didn’t know my identity was a knock off of other people’s expectations of my life.
- When mom said I paint very well,
- When I got the highest marks in a subject,
- When my brother admired my chess move,
These small compliments built the foundation of my identity. I forced myself to believe that’s who I am. I resisted change.
The more something threatens to change how to view yourself, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid getting around it. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing how you fit in the world. Anything that shakes up that comfort, even if it could possibly make your life better, is inherently scary, says Mark Manson in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
Tip #1. You can trace your identity by inspecting other people’s expectations of you
From my early childhood, my mom believed I was sort of a genius. Whenever I got a good score in some subjects, she got convinced more and more. I can still remember her saying:
Cinto is really talented. In such a short time he understood this poem. Cinto's hold on the computer is unbelievable. If Cinto works harder, he can be anything
Although she had no bad intentions, she ignorantly kept adding. And I too tried to live up to her expectations. Whenever I got bad results, I lied to her. I thought that any failure would change the way she looks at me, so I kept hiding my incompetencies.
Believing myself to be a genius with computers, I studied Computer engineering. Then later I joined a large tech company as a contract to hire. Because of my experience in the project, I was accepted full-time after about a year.
Now this company is one of the largest tech companies in the world. 50% of its hires are usually geniuses who have master’s degrees and PhDs. And I was a simple engineer. But I tried to live up to the expectations that were set for me, by people around me.
Tip #2. Other people’s expectations of you make you focus on what’s not important
My way of proving my existence in the competitive tech world was to fight back. Fight back whenever someone pointed out mistakes in my work.
Fight back whenever others got a promotion ahead of me. I took more work in an attempt to impress others. I made myself happy by revealing the mistakes others did. I huffed and puffed to win every small battle. In short, I focussed on others, more than me.
Some months into my job, we were working on a critical project. And a code was throwing some stupid error. We failed to debug it. Our senior manager who was overlooking this project was getting more and more pissed.
By the end of the week, he had lost his patience. He looked at me and blurted out the words in front of the entire team
You are not able to solve this problem. You are just Mediocre
Tip #3 Other people’s expectations of you make you a knock off
The words he said were something I always tried to convince myself I was not.
The following weekend was one of the worst for me. I could not eat, I could not talk to my family. I was a depressing piece of shit. My brain kept repeating that I am mediocre.
People have figured out that I was Mediocre, that has to be bad … right?
When I woke up the following Monday, I somehow felt a change. It felt as if someone had removed a huge weight from my chest, a weight of expectations. I did not feel a need to go to my office and prove to people that I am not mediocre, I need not prove that I am a genius.
Gautam Buddha says you are better off letting go of everything. It sounds idiotic, but there is a psychological benefit. When we let go of stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves.
Tip #4. The path to contentment starts with letting go of other people’s expectations of you
That moment slowly started to change me.
The extra baggage I carried trying to impress everyone was gone. I need not prove anything to anyone. I realized that the short-cuts I took to get instant gratification were not needed. I can focus on the bigger picture and work towards it.
From then on, whenever a problem came, I did not join the rat race to finish it first. I stepped back, took my time to analyze the problem. I focused more on understanding the problem. Whenever someone got better than me, I was okay. Whenever someone found an issue in my code, I was okay.
These are a few changes I noticed in myself 6 months after that incident:
- I became more content and satisfied with my job,
- I spoke less in meetings and listened more,
- I worked on only a few problems at a time but went in-depth in each problem,
- I was more focussed on my work,
- I was more focussed on myself
I am still mediocre, but just a better version of it.
Tip #5 Here is the reason why to let go of other people’s expectations of you backed by science
In one of her articles, Psychologist Sian Beilock compares the human mind to a computer. When a lot of jobs are running at the same time, your computer starts slowing down. The computer performs below its capacity. The same happens when we are burdened by expectations.
- What if some else solves the problem first?
- What if my code is not correct?
- What if someone else finds out I am stupid?
All these questions make the mind think, it makes your mind slow down. Your mind focuses on the side-effects rather than the problem.
Just let it go. You don’t have to be a genius in everything. Let not other people’s expectations of you tie you down. It is okay to be mediocre. Most of us are indeed pretty average at most things we do.
We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re truly exceptional at one thing — say math, or jump rope, or making money off the black gun market — chances are you’re pretty average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. - Mark Manson