I often hear our age group described as “skeptical” in a way that makes us sound pessimistic. While we may doubt our chances of home ownership, we’re actually a very optimistic generation overall.
But this optimism can have a bit of a downside. It means we’ve grown up with big expectations for ourselves, huge hopes and dreams for what we can achieve.
As we enter adulthood in university, many of us really grapple with those expectations for the first time. It can seem like university students need to get better grades and have more well-rounded experiences than ever before. It can be tough to deal with both your personal expectations for yourself, as well as everyone else’s.
As a student in my last year who is all too familiar with pressure, I’ve picked up some insights that can help.
Grappling with your own expectations
I waltzed into university thinking that I’d find it academically manageable, like high school. I had huge, long-term expectations for myself to “succeed” in every arena I could.
“I’ll whip up a high GPA for law school, easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy,” I thought as I imagined myself as a Canadian Elle Woods. My expectation for myself was that I had to be perfect—perfect grades, perfect job, perfect social life, without really considering what it took to achieve that.
Needless to say, I realized that university, and life, isn’t about achieving perfection. This can be tough for students at UBC, since a lot of us identify as high achievers, and we want to be better than our best.
I’ve found that focusing on the short term and the present helps a lot. A good place to start is by taking things week by week.
Create a weekly schedule of your entire term at the beginning, penciling in when you have commitments and assignments, and when you’ll need to start working on them. Then, put away the master schedule and focus on each week from there on out. That way, you’ll be ready when commitments come up, but there will be less pressure to think about long-term things you don’t have to worry about yet.
Doing this forced me to focus on the things I was learning and doing each day, rather than worrying about vague, big-picture goals. It allowed me to adjust my expectations for myself each week, rather than keeping a rigid (and lofty) set of expectations over several months. If I had a tough week ahead in school, it was easier to lower my social commitments for the week, rather than trying to think months in advance about how I could fit everything in.
You don’t have to lose sight of long-term goals you have for yourself, but looking at your life day by day or week by week makes it easier to keep track of how you’re feeling, what you want, and what’s reasonable to expect from yourself.
Keeping up with your peers
The Kardashians are hard enough to keep up with—don’t stress about your classmates, too.
That being said, containing your expectations for yourself can be challenging. On social media, we’re constantly inundated with all the incredible things our friends and peers are doing, whether that’s saving the bees or running marathons.
It’s probably not reasonable to suggest that anyone who’s a student deletes social media, but consider who you follow. I recently unfollowed a lot of people on Instagram who led lives that seemed effortlessly perfect, and am now trying to follow people who work hard and inspire me to do the same.
Additionally, it’s nice and all to be humble, but a couple times a week, take time to reflect on what you’ve worked hard to achieve. Maybe the end product wasn’t flashy, but keep a list of times you worked really hard for something.
When you’re feeling down, read the list and think about all the things you’ve accomplished—big or small. You don’t need a medal to be proud of something.
Ultimately, even though there’s people running marathons, life isn’t a race, and everyone experiences successes and failures at different times. I realized that comparing my accomplishments to those of others didn’t make me a better person. It also made me less proud than I should have been about all the amazing things I had done.
So what if I haven’t started my own NGO to save the bees yet—it doesn’t mean I can’t one day (assuming there’s still bees to save, of course).
Managing others’ expectations—especially your family’s
Everyone deals with the challenges of trying to meet expectations. In particular, I know a lot of people who worry that they’re not at the level their family wishes they were at, myself included.
It can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what our families expect of us or the reason behind their wishes.
If you’re worried that you’re not meeting their expectations, it’s ok to bring it up and talk to them about it. You might not always see eye to eye, but dialogue can help.
Know that your family most likely just wants the best for you and try to see the intention behind what they’re asking. And remember: they face pressures of their own too (including, for example, trying to be a good parent).
Keep in mind though that constantly trying to cater to other people’s expectations of you might not make you happy. At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you.
You do you
So be your sometimes skeptical, but overall optimistic self, and keep working towards what you want. But remember that nobody succeeds all the time, and everyone feels pressure in some way—even if it doesn’t always look like it.
The most important expectations to meet are the ones you set for yourself, but you shouldn’t expect yourself to be perfect. As cheesy as it sounds, you’re probably doing just fine at being you.