I went on a run today. Saying an unqualified “run” might be a bit generous, I guess. I went on a walk that often tilted into jogging and, at the very end, became a gasping, delirious, slightly-more-than-jog. I strategically walked when there was no one else on the path, but I did make it through to the end without stopping.
So this post could go either way. It could be about how running is not my forte, how I probably will stop, how things never quite work out the way I planned them to and it’s worth trying but not that much. I guess if you look at it that way, there are enough qualifiers for my run that I should probably feel bad about it and probably quit so that I don’t twist my ankle and crumple to the ground in tears.
But this post could also be about what life is like when you give yourself the gift of no expectations.
I know, don’t expectations keep us successful and happy? Aren’t over-achievers the ones who rule the world? The ones who excel and join twelve clubs and never ever cry? Isn’t forgoing expectations kind of a cop-out, a way to go through life without trying too much or changing the world?
Maybe. But what happens when over-achievers stop achieving? What happens when you can’t meet your own sky-high expectations and things start to fall apart?
I write this as an over-achiever who was forced for a significant time in my life not to achieve, and it devastated my sense of self. In 2010, I was forced to take time out of school due to unforeseen health problems, and suddenly I was left to wander through my house with nothing to do, trying to force myself to eat carrot sticks instead of cookie dough. I had expected to graduate in 2012 with all of my friends and move on to some as-yet-undecided career. I expected to find a boyfriend and get an internship and maybe, just maybe, develop a sense of style that wasn’t based on floor-length second-hand floral dresses.
But then I was sick, and those expectations started to crash around me. I had to ask myself: what could I possibly achieve that would make all this sadness go away? The answer, I think, was nothing. There was no kind of external success that could make the loneliness and isolation disappear, no achievement that ensured lasting, fool-proof happiness. Ultimately, that had to come from the inside.
So now, of course, I go through life blissfully free of all expectations, with complete knowledge that my own self-worth is what is most important. The success of those around me doesn’t impact my self-esteem. I am carefree and entirely open to whatever the world throws at me.
But still, time has allowed me to loosen my grip on some of those expectations, and the result is, for example, a run. A so-much-worse-than-every-single-one-of-my-cousins run, but a run that leaves me feeling exhilarated and proud. Daring to be imperfect, daring to achieve less and try more, is a gift that I am slowly giving to myself. It is a gift that makes life worthwhile.