When the weight of expectation becomes crushing
I enjoy writing. I find it cathartic because it’s a way for me to work through the thoughts in my head and hopefully construct a narrative that others will find interesting. Outside of that, it’s a way for me to document how things are going, what’s relevant in my life and to see how I’m progressing as a person. I’ve tried to tackle both professional topics, but also personal ones like resilience, depression, trust and failure.
Usually, when I sit down to write about a personal topic, it occurs on the tail end of its immediacy as I’ve managed to work out what things mean and what to do next. But I have noticed that my output of articles has been decidedly few recently. And only this morning, as I was almost incapable of getting out of bed did I realise why: I have been crushing myself under the weight of my own expectations. For some time, I lay there, contemplating not even beginning the day because it felt like too much. Instead I decided to try and understand what caused it and what to look out for in the future.
The last few weeks have been incredible for a variety of reasons. The quality of work, continual achievements and generally progressing further and further down a path that I believe will lead to something special has been an honour. But with that, I have set almost unrealistic expectations on myself to continue to keep things going at that pace.
And that pace has remained, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Today should be one of the brightest milestones in my career as we have officially signed off on early stage funding and begin our technology development. Two weeks ago, I was shortlisted for a scholarship. I was just interviewed for another prize, as apparently my work is considered amongst the top of the 1500 applicants. On Thursday, I get to speak about my own work and all of the things it means to me.
I love to share my achievements. I am proud of the work that I do and the things that I want to achieve. The thing about social media is that it allows you to curate what you share about your world. And recently, many of my posts have been about the things going on in my life that I am starting to value and be proud of.
This is all true. There is so much going on that I want to share and be proud of, but I cannot work out why I look at the string of emails and messages I have been unable to muster the effort to respond to and wonder how I woke up suddenly feeling like I was drowning.
And they’re all little things. A simple request here, maybe an hour of work there. But collectively, these requests have compounded over the last few weeks to leave me irritable, short, and often unable to simply sit down and do the things I need to do.
I often forget that life isn’t all about work. It’s where I find my purpose, so I find myself going headfirst into that work at the sacrifice of other things. Recently, those ‘other things’ have reared their head to remind me that I need to be conscious of more than just my work and that there are other aspects of my life and that they are really important. It’s tough when you’re forced to consider the mortality of loved ones but don’t want to let anything get in the way.
But ultimately, I am no good to anyone if I work myself into another breakdown. If I were on the other side of the conversation, I would ask who I was trying to impress. Why it was so important to continue at this pace and what would happen if things slowed down. And I have no real answers to those questions.
If I compare myself to many of my peers, perhaps it’s them I want to impress. But most of their lives are curated through social media in the same way as mine, so I have no idea what goes on during all the other hours. Maybe they’re irritable a lot. Maybe they’ve made decisions they’re not proud of. Or maybe there’s something about their personality they are too afraid to share. It is stupid to compare yourself to the idealised version of someone else because things aren’t equal. But it’s a trap we all frequently fall into.
The reality is, if I said that I needed to take a break, I doubt one person I know would object. And if they did, they are not someone I want in my life. But I realised as I struggled to get out of bed this morning that I’m the only one stopping myself from having that break. And that my expectations will quickly become my biggest limitations if they’re not managed correctly.
In a little over a week, I will take off to Europe for my first opportunity at a real holiday in over two years. And it clearly cannot come at a better time. But I know I will always be able to find an excuse to check my emails or to casually see how things are going.
Unfortunately, the only person that will harm is myself. I need to aim to use this break as the opportunity to remember that I am not the most important piece of the puzzle but one of many and that we all have our part to play. Hopefully, it will be the opportunity to reset and remember that the expectation I place on myself should be to play the best part I can, not to play every part. Because if I’m not careful, I will go missing again and it’s impossible to complete the puzzle without all the pieces.