Tell Me About It: Feeling ruled by others’ expectations

Published September 3 2018

Q: In a lot of ways my life is really great right now. I just got engaged, Iíve finished my graduate degree, and Iím finally going to therapy to address my lifelong anxiety.

But Iím still struggling, and Iíve realized now that Iíve gotten my degree, I have no idea what I want to do next, outside of other peopleís expectations. On top of that, my fiance ó who is in the mental health field ó thinks I might have undiagnosed ADHD, and preliminary reading matches up with the spaciness and absentmindedness and the general inability to focus on anything ever.

I guess I just want some reassurance that this will pass, and things can get better. And some reassurance that my struggle is real, and that Iím not a weak pansy looking for an excuse for not living up to my potential.

Happy But ...

A: Wait ó since when is "living up to my potential" such an obligation that one needs an excuse not to?

You donít owe it to anyone to use your life in any particular way. Sure, there are obligations we all assume when we live in society (obey laws, not be a nuisance) and when we form relationships with other people (donít exploit othersí affection for us, make a good faith effort to be the people we claimed to be, meet financial and child-rearing obligations) ó but thereís a vast amount of flexibility within those boundaries.

If you went to grad school, for example, fully believing it was the right move for you, but you have since come to see that you were living out other peopleís vision for your life ó or if you just realized, oops, itís the wrong field for you ó then it would not be acting in bad faith to follow a different path.

Whether "this will pass," who knows. Probably. Most things do ó and then "that" will kick in.

So tend to your health, and breathe, and take the time you need to sort yourself out. The idea that life is linear is one that canít die soon enough. Age is linear, but the rest seems to work better if we embrace it as loopy. Both senses intended.