I will shamelessly admit. At 30, I had lived my entire life off of the expectations my family and society had put on me. I hustled through highschool to get into a prestigious college. I fell in love, hard, with a man who honestly wasn’t good for me. I jumped around from job to job, to get ahead on the corporate ladder. I even hopped from relationship to relationship, in the hopes I’d find someone quickly so that I’d settle down before hitting 30.
Never once did I stop to think about how following a life of expectations was hurting me. Even though I knew deep down I was exhibiting symptoms of unhappiness throughout by 20’s (I was constantly anxious and suffered from some serious escapist behaviors), I never sat down to introspectively figure out what the source of my unhappiness.
It took me until I met my new neighbor, Dany, (I will leave her real name anonymous for the sake of her own privacy) for me to realize that my unsatisfaction in life was because I was chasing expectations. When you’re mimicking your life based on what you see on what you see around you — your friends, your family, and social media — you’re basically living your life like you’re in an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. You spend so much time worrying about how others view you versus doing what is truly right for you. My new neighbor, Dany, exemplified that.
When I first met Dany, I felt that she was an exact mirror image of me. Dany grew up in a lower middle class family. Her parents struggled to put food on the table and, by the time college came around, all she could do was afford to attend a small university in Canada. She graduated and got a job as a pharmacist at 23. Right after that, her parents expected her to get married. As a dutiful daughter, she did and got married to a man she liked, but not necessarily loved, at 25.
She lived up to the life roadmap her family and friends made for her. She got a degree, a decent job, and a husband. On Instagram and on Facebook, her life looked perfect. All her feeds were pictures of her and her new husband, traveling around the world visiting exotic locations. The rest of her photos were her smiling and acting the part of a good friend / dutiful bridemaid at her friends’ weddings as they were all coupling off.
However, the pictures were simply pictures and were a far cry from reality. A year into her marriage, Dany found out that her husband was bisexual and that he had been seeing other men online. After the shock and anger wore off after her discovery of her husband’s sexuality, she ended up deciding to stay in her marriage. I know what most of you who are reading this are thinking — why didn’t she just leave? When you spend your whole life living up to expectations from everyone around you, it’s not easy to learn to stop.
You see, Dany didn’t believe she could walk away, get divorced, and start her life all over at 27. First of all, she needed the financial security her husband and his family offered. Her pharmacist job paid well, but didn’t offer the lifestyle that her husband’s family provided. Compound that by the fact that all her friends were also in their late 20’s and were in committed relationships that were all turning into marriage. To her, walking away from this marriage meant, not only being alone, but also admitting to herself that the life she had got herself into was not hers at all to begin with.
Fast forward in time, Dany ended up staying in her loveless, adulterous marriage for another ten whole years.
So what did I learn from all this?
1.Living a life of expectations can ruin you
In Dany’s case, getting married was the biggest mistake in her life. She not only lost her youth in the process, she lost herself. At the end of her divorce, like many divorces, her friends picked sides. In her case, most of them sided with her husband. She came out of her marriage feeling betrayed, isolated, and terrified of starting her life all over.
But the biggest thing Dany learned is that time is the one thing you never get to buy back. Dany will never be able to buy back her youth. She will never be a doe-eyed, 20-something looking to explore the world to see what life truly has to offer. In fact, at 37, all she has is a lifetime of regret. Dany lived a life not on her own terms, and it cost her everything– her mental health, her friendships, and her time.
2.Your intuition should guide all the big decisions in your life
Dany told me that when she was walking down the aisle on her wedding day, she felt sick to her stomach. She was supposed to be celebrating the happiest day of her life. But the contrary happened. She felt so sick that she had to get drunk on her own wedding night to numb the pain away.
Even though at the time she wouldn’t have known that her husband would have been unfaithful, her body and intuition had been signaling to her on her wedding day that she was making the wrong decision. Had she listened to it, she could have saved herself from a mistake that cost her ten years of her life.
Nowadays, we’re taught to analyze and rationalize everything we do when we make critical decisions in our lives. And as someone who used to do that myself, I’ve become an advocate of always trusting your gut and your intuition. Your intuition is unconscious — it’s the part of your brain that instinctively knows whether something is wrong or right, without any conscious reasoning. It is not logical — it’s natural. Intuition is that feeling in your stomach or your chest when you know something looks right, but deep down is not. It’s a feeling you can’t control in the moment, but can choose to follow or ignore.
What I learned from all this is that, if we want a fulfilled life, we need to learn to live life by our own terms. When we get caught up doing things that others expect of us, we end up lying and hurting ourselves. Dany lied to herself from the minute she got married. But at some point, she started believing her own lies, and those lies eventually became her reality.
The ironic thing about lies is that they eventually reveal the truth. In Dany’s case, she decided ten years later that she couldn’t pretend to live a life that wasn’t hers anymore. And at 37 — she’s taking the brave step of ending the marriage and starting her life from scratch.
As I begin my 30’s, what I’ve learned is that expectations are overrated. They’re meant to control people in society and make them accept that dogma is the way in life. When in reality, expectations can ruin your life and cause you years of unhappiness.
We are human at the end of the day. And being human means that we are only free and happy when we follow the voices that our own heart and intuition are telling us.