High self-expectations can make you unhappy.
Nowadays, I don’t expect too much from myself anymore. Whenever someone asks me when would I launch my next book, my standard reply is, “The book will be done when it is done.”
As much as I would love to give them an answer, the truth is I don’t know.
It’s not that I don’t have a deadline for my book launch. It’s just that the draft isn’t quite there yet. Rather than forcing myself to meet a self-imposed deadline, I choose to push back my deadline and revise the content instead.
If you are a writer, entrepreneur, artist, or someone who creates, you probably have experienced the same frustration at least one time in your career before. You have the vision to create something, but it seems to take forever to manifest.
Being frustrated with your progress, you thought you need to go faster.
So you feel a need to push yourself to get it done quicker. You sacrifice your personal time and rest time.
But in the end, you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and hopeless. Suddenly, the one thing you are most passionate about doing becomes the one thing you most dreaded to do.
The Illusion of High Self Expectations
The theme for my 2016 Self-Love Project this month is about expectations. Not meeting your expectations can easily lead to frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and even depression. Expecting too much from yourself can also lower your self-esteem and destroy your passion in the process.
The silent killer of your happiness is high self-expectations.
Most of us are unaware that we have high self-expectations. We don’t see expectations as expectations. They have become so integrated into our belief system that we see them as norms. We see them as something we should be able to do, given the job identity we have.
- “As a writer, I’m supposed to churn out thousands of words every time I sit down to write.”
- “If I practice hard enough, my artwork should improve and I should be able to draw faster.”
- “As an entrepreneur, if I spent a lot of time and effort in my business, I should be able to make money.”
I called high self-expectation a “silent killer” because even if we are aware of it, most of us would still think that having high self-expectations is good.
- “Shouldn’t my creation be perfect and flawless?”
- “If I don’t expect much from myself, then I wouldn’t have any growth or improvement.”
- “Without high expectations, I won’t feel motivated to achieve my goals and desires.”
It’s not that you shouldn’t have any goals and visions for yourself.
But goals and visions are not the same as expectations.
They might appear to be the same, but they are not.
When Self Expectations Disguise as Our Vision
After my episode of depression, I realized my mind always had this negative pattern whenever I had a vision for something. It goes something like this:
- First, I will have a vision. I’m passionate about it. I actively work towards my vision. Everything is great.
- Second, there will be non-acceptance. While building my vision, I still have a day job. There will always be something about my day job which I dislike. My mind will blow it out of proportion and make me feel that I should be spending more time building my vision instead.
- Third, there will be expectations. I expect myself to execute my vision faster. So that it will replace the income from my job and I don’t have to do my day job again. I have to spend more time on my vision, and less time for my job.
- Fourth, there will be frustration. Where do I get more time for my vision? My own personal time, of course. After a while, I will feel stressed and burned out because I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t execute my vision as fast as I expected.
- Lastly, there will be hopelessness. I wanted to give up. My mind will generate negative thoughts such as “I never going to execute my vision. I would be stuck in this day job forever.”
Self-expectations sneak in when there’s non-acceptance.
Having a vision is great, but you are setting yourself up for disappointment when you coupled it with high expectations. I couldn’t focus on my day job because I’m running away from it. I couldn’t accept that it is the thing I needed to do now while building my vision. My day job is part of the process of building my vision.
Expectations and visions aren’t the same. Vision is just an idea about the future. It gives you hope. It tells you what life could be in the future. When you have a book idea, that is a vision too. But vision never gives you a deadline. It can’t guarantee it would make you successful. It never even asks you to execute it!
The choice is yours.
A vision is a vision. It has no purpose.
Vision guarantees nothing. If you choose to accept the vision, do it without any expectations. If not, you will find yourself complaining that your vision doesn’t bring you what you want. Because vision always brings you something valuable, but what it brings you may not be what you expect to receive.
An expectation, on the other hand, is a belief. It’s a belief that you can execute the vision by a certain time. It’s a belief that your vision is going to change your life for the better. Vision has nothing to do with these. We are the ones who put expectations on our vision.
When you are expecting something from yourself, you are actually projecting yourself into the future. You have an ideal image of where you want to be, but you are not there yet, so you get frustrated easily. It’s created by your non-acceptance of the now. You rather be there in the future, then be here now in the present.
When Self Expectations Disguise as Our Goals
I tell you one secret about creativity: I have no control over it. Just because I’m a writer and I can write 1,000 words today. It doesn’t mean that I will write 1,000 words tomorrow.
Having goals is great. It gives you a direction to move towards. It provides you with a measurement of your progress.
But goals with expectations make you unfulfilled.
Usually, there are two outcomes when you pursue your goals:
- You meet your goals.
- You don’t meet your goals.
Both are actually okay. If you meet your goals, celebrate. If you don’t, you can either change your goals and set new ones or find better ways to achieve your goals.
What’s not okay is when you attach expectations to goals. You expect yourself to achieve nothing less from your goals and you beat yourself up when you don’t. If your goal is to get a million dollars, and you get 750 thousand. That is still pretty good, right?
The truth is many things are beyond our control. If I were to expect myself to achieve all my goals 100% of the time, my life would be pretty miserable.
So let goals be goals. And leave your expectations at the door. Don’t use your goals to motivate you because that is not its purpose.
Why You Can’t Rush the Creative Process?
Recently, I read an entrepreneur book called E-Myth Mastery by Michael Gerber. Even though it’s an entrepreneur book, some of the things can be applied to other creative fields such as a writer. I thought I share it.
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “Entrepreneur is a creator and is defined by his creation. The entrepreneur, however, is never passionate about work. Creation is discovering something new.”
- “Work is not for the purpose of discovering something new. Work is for the purpose of getting something done. The minute creations become about getting something done, it turns into work.”
Creativity is about discovery. An expectation is about the outcome.
Yes, holding my book in my hand feels great. But writing to me isn’t all about the tangible outcome.
Writing, like vision and any other creative work, is a discovery process. When I write, I don’t know what new things I’m going to discover along the way. I don’t get to choose my inspiration. My inspiration chooses me. And that’s what makes writing so exciting and terrifying at the same time. You don’t know what your book will become in the end. I had revamped my current book thrice and each time I did so because I discovered something new.
The journey is as important if not more important than the outcome. Keeping a good mood as you write is better than sacrificing your happiness just to get your book published.
As much as I love to have a fixed deadline and adhere to it, creativity and productivity sometimes just don’t mix with each other. You can’t rush yourself to finish faster.
Your expectation of getting it done fast is going to destroy the inspiration that gets you started in the first place.
Featured Photo Credit: think / withbeautiful