It was so easy to imagine your glamorous, successful adulthood when you were a kid. Why? Because it seemed so far off. Because it seemed inevitable that with all the time that was to pass between then and now, you were bound to find success. After all, you had so. much. time.
But here you are. It is now. And you’re nowhere near where you thought you’d be. And it sucks.
The image of your corner office in a high rise downtown, or a blossoming family with another baby on the way, or your bestselling memoir residing at the top of every person’s to-read list, seem another world away from where you currently stand.
And sometimes, your adulthood dreams weren’t even that intense or complicated. Sometimes they were as simple as I want to be in a happy relationship or I want to be working at a job that I love or I want to be able to pay for a $40 dinner tab with a friend without feeling a twinge of stress or guilt.
And yet, even with these supposedly less complicated wants, you’re still very far from where you want to be.
Here’s the thing about expectations. They’re your greatest ally and your worst enemy.
They can be the thing that drives you to get up every day and to apply feverishly for jobs until something bites and to work your ass off at your job and to make sure your life consists of something, anything that brings you joy and fulfillment and purpose. Expectations hold you to another level. They are the thing that forces you to refuse to accept the mediocre version of yourself and of your life.
But expectations also have a tipping point, a point where they become idealistic and extravagant and unrealistic. It’s not that it’s wrong to have big dreams and big goals. Wanting more for yourself and working to have more for yourself is exactly what you should be doing. But it becomes a problem when your brain wants you to instantaneously to be at the top of a mountain that actually takes years, and sometimes even decades, to climb.
The problem with expectations is that they can cause you to focus on the bigger picture a little too much.
It’s a good idea to know what you want and to know what you’re working towards, but it is absolutely crucial that you do not trivialize the importance of the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments of adulthood that are actually the makeup for the person you are becoming and the building blocks for the path that your life is going to take.
It’s really hard to reconcile the lifelong image of where you thought you’d be at 22 or 26 or 31 with where you actually are, right now. But what you must take comfort in is that this is just how it works.
It might seem like everyone else has “arrived,” that everyone except for you has achieved what they set out to achieve. But this is your brain playing tricks on you. This is your brain, your sneaky ego, distracting you from the small but pivotal moments that are becoming important and influential to your life when they’re practiced with enough consistency and diligence. Waking up on a depressing Monday morning and going to work (even though you don’t feel like it) won’t make much of a difference in your life when it’s done once or twice. But after fifty-two times? And a hundred and four times? It certainly does.
Working on a presentation until your brain has nothing left. Going to night classes. Cooking at home instead of eating out in order to save money. Only dating people who treat you with respect. Coming into the office early more often than you come in late. Just getting up every day. They all seem like forgettable moments. They seem average. They just seem like insignificant aspects of what turned out to be your very unremarkable adulthood.
But these moments are more powerful and more significant than you realize quite yet. They are real life. They are the building blocks of a successful adulthood that the starry-eyed, 10-year-old version of you could never understand. These things that you do every day, without ever thinking about it, are truly making you into the person you want to be. Maybe this slow-paced, unglamorous path to success is not as exciting as you imagined it would be. Maybe you’re nowhere close to where you thought you’d be by now. But you’re on your way. You’re already becoming you. You just have to remember that you’re doing it in real-life time – which takes a little longer than a 90-minute movie.