Crazy Expectations

I know I have blogged about success and expectations a lot, but I couldn’t resist the urge to do it again.  I was re-reading Wasted (great book, in my opinion) the other night and came across this paragraph that describes one of my biggest underlying issues perfectly:

“The fear [of the real world] too, is a fear of yourself: a completely dualistic and contradictory fear. On the one hand it is a fear that you do not have what it takes to make it, and on the other hand, a possibly great fear that you do have what it takes, and that by definition you therefore have a responsibility to do something really big. It’s a little daunting…most people go out with a general idea that they’ll do something or other and that it will be okay. You go out with the certainty that you will be a failure from the outset, or that you will have to do something utterly stellar, which implies the potential for failure anyway. When I was growing up, I [had the] expectation that I would do one of two things: be Great at something, or go crazy and become a total failure. There is no middle ground.”

Even as a little kid, I wanted to do something extraordinary – I didn’t want to just study history, I wanted to work in the government; I didn’t want to just be a doctor, I wanted to be the surgeon general. It is not that I want to be famous, someone who is recognized on the street. It is that I want to feel that I have done something that has an impact on the world. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, nor do I feel like I will have lasting relationships, so the only way for me to “matter” is to do something really cool with my career.

The problem is that rather then being motivational, these super high expectations paralyze me. In the same way that a perfectionist has trouble finishing a task because it is never “perfect”, I struggle to make it through college/med school/whatever because I always feel like I am not doing enough to eventually “be someone.” Furthermore, I feel like I need to be there NOW. Or rather, I need to be doing things right now to help ensure that I get there, but since I don’t know what those things are (is it doing research, or volunteering, or getting good grades in med school or a combo) I start freaking out. I sit and compare myself to the people in my class who have already established nonprofits or been recognized, and feel like I am already so far behind, I might as well give up.

Just as Marya Hornbacher explains, that is where the eating disorder fits in oh-so-well. The eating disorder becomes a great excuse for why I have failed to live up to my expectations. It is an easy way out when I get too overwhelmed.

Lately, I have been trying to remind myself that I just need to step back and do what I want as well as I can. Most of the people I want to be like did not make some amazing discovery in medical school…they did what they had to do and with a combo of luck and hard work got where they are. I just need to trust that if I am patient, I will get where I want to go. Furthermore, even if I end up being “just” a regular doctor, and don’t do anything “cool” with it like work for TV or do policy, that’s ok – if I think “just” being a doctor equals success for anyone else, then it should equal success for me too!


5 thoughts on “Crazy Expectations

  1. Although my opinions on Hornbacher’s book are mixed, that particular paragraph is circled, highlighted, and marked with an exclamation point in my copy! I can totally identify with your reaction in this post, as I also feel “paralyzed” by my urgent and consuming need to do something amazing RIGHT NOW. Then my eating disorder steps in and all bets are off.

    You’re absolutely right that being “just a doctor” should be–and IS–a wonderful success for you, too. Best of luck getting away from the disordered behaviors, finding your own success, and letting yourself be happy.

  2. Thanks for the wishes of luck. It’s amazing how we have these expectations for ourselves, but I know I would never expect one of my friends or a family member to be doing something amazing RIGHT NOW. And then of course the eating disorder sets up a cycle where you are never getting any closer to your life goals, thus making your self-esteem worse, and driving the eating disorder. It’s tough to break!

    I wish you luck too, and remember – whatever you are doing right now is enough!

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