If anyone had told me that I would be a mom, happily married and doing everything I can to build and grow my own women’s empowerment brand at 27. I would have laughed.
I’d be laughing because I wasn’t that kind of girl. The one who chooses marriage, a family and a non traditional career path over being independent and career focused.
You see,for a woman like me, large investments have been made to get me here and when an invest is made, a return on that investment is expected by a specific time. And when that return on investment is not received, I’m faced with an expectation hangover.
That all too familiar guilt and shame of being a disappointment to those who believed in you and invested in your future.
So can we please talk about expectations. Or is it expectation hangovers. Especially when you don’t feel as successful as you thought you’d be at this point in your life.
What does it even mean to be successful?
I don’t know about you but I grew up knowing that success was going to school, getting good grades, graduating top of my class, going to a world class college and landing a well paying dream job right after college. If I achieved all this I would have arrived.
I would have made it to the top of the mountain and then, only then would I be allowed to enjoy life. But before I got to that point, I would be required to spend sleepless nights putting in the work, making sacrifices and aiming higher, getting better, more education, another degree,another certification, a master’s, a PhD, an award, recognition and whatever else comes after that.
In my African culture success is about about getting things done. Whether you like these things or not. And your success is measured using one single measuring stick. Where you went to school, the grades you got in school, what you do for a living, where you work, how much you earn, where you live and who you associate with.
So that if you turn out to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, pilot, architect, CEO, manager or some other glamorous big title career, you’re successful but if you don’t, sorry my friend. You just made it into the category of a failure, a big disappointment to your parents and to society.
No wonder so many people are walking around feeling ashamed and inadequate. They are not where the measuring stick dictates they’re supposed to be at that age so they’re beating themselves up. I know I was for a while.
Are you making other people’s success your goals?
Times have changed. That measuring stick is no longer adequate in determining whether or not someone is successful. Think about it, how many people do you know who have college degrees but are either unemployed or underemployed?
And on the other hand, how many people do you know who dropped out of school but are still successful regardless. Think of William Kamakwamba for instance. His story will inspire you.
And yet, there are still many more people who have everything the measuring stick dictates you have to have to be successful and yet they are not happy or fulfilled.
You see where I’m going with this right?
There is no one road to success, each one of us must find our own way. So why are we even wasting our time competing and comparing ourselves to strangers on social media and feeling ashamed about where we are in our journey? Why are we making other people’s success our goals?
The Problem with Putting Success in A Box
The older I grow the more I believe that everyone is on their own unique path. The more I believe that success can’t be put in a box because everyone has their own unique purpose.
A reason why they came to this world. A reason why they’re still alive and breathing instead of lying somewhere lifeless. There is something special about each and everyone of us that is meant to be our unique contribution to humanity.
Each one of us including you has their own God given gifts. Something that only you possess in the way that you do that is meant to be of service to others.Because in reality, love and service are the real reasons for being.
You are God’s answer to someone else’s prayer. You are the solution to someone else’s problem.That special thing that you can do, no one else in this world can do it the way you do it. And when you know what that thing is, you’ve found your life’s work. A box becomes too small for your kind of success to fit in.
When I left my safe job to start a business. I had no idea what exactly would be required of me. I simply knew that I wanted to do meaningful work and make lots of money doing it. What other options did I have besides starting a business?
I didn’t even think I had unique gifts or talents. I didn’t even think about my purpose. I simply knew that if I worked hard and figured out whatever I needed to figure out then I could build a successful business and then I would be happy.
Yet despite all the hard work I put into my idea, the success didn’t come. And without the outward success to show for all the work I was doing, I started believing that I was a fraud. That I had nothing unique or valuable to offer after all.
But the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have value to offer, the problem was that I was still measuring myself against someone else’s measuring stick. Making other people’s success my goals. And as a result putting myself on a deadline according to unrealistic expectations (mine and other people’s). And feeling inadequate every time I failed to reach a deadline.
I’m slowly learning that success is not a straight line. It is not even a destination. It is a journey and the sooner I embrace where I am in the journey and be at peace with it, the more I’m able to give myself permission to be me. Flaws and all.
I’ve also discovered that gifts come in all packages. But the greatest gift of them all is my story. By owning, healing and getting to the truth of my story, I discovered my life’s unique purpose. I uncovered my greatest gift to the world and now I get to help other women uncover their own unique gifts so they can be all they were born to be in this world.
How to get over your expectation hangover
Own your hearts desires
Your desires are a gift because they are unique to you. There are things you want in a way that no one else wants. Don’t discount that. Don’t settle for less when you want more.
Desire is your guiding compass, calling you towards your unique life’s purpose. Calling you to grow into everything you were born to become. Think about anyone who has created something unique and different in the world.
They didn’t do it out of sheer luck (although that’s how it usually looks like from the outside), they were following their hearts desires. They wanted something that did not already exist so they created it and it turned out to be bigger than they could ever have imagined.
I’m not saying all your desires will lead to great breakthroughs. They might, and if they don’t they’ll pull you a step closer to achieving your greatest success. My first business was a flop, but it pulled me one step closer to discovering my unique gift.
Ask yourself: If other people’s opinions didn’t matter, would you still be chasing the dream you’re chasing or living the life you’re living?
Make time for self care
We don’t want to be successful for the success but rather for the feeling we get when we finally have what we want. The expectation that when we get there everything will be perfect and we will have arrived is an illusion. Because sometimes we get there and a new desire is born or we don’t really like what we thought would make us happy.
To avoid this expectation hangover you might as well have fun on your journey. Enjoy every moment life has to offer while you still can. And that means putting yourself at the top of your to do list. Making time for self care.
As mom, wife, entrepreneur ,daughter, friend, sister etc. my to do list is very long. Everyone needs something from me and I’m often tempted to say yes to taking care of all their needs at the expense of what I need. But I’ve learned to say no and to prioritize. I’ve learned to set aside some time for myself every single day. Because when mama is happy everyone is happy.
Have a plan and work hard to get what you want but more importantly have a plan for taking care of yourself. Remember, a job, a business, money, or an award is replaceable. You are not.
Believe that you already have what it takes to be successful
Trust your journey. Everything is working out for your good. Even that situation that is stressing you out or making you feel ashamed. It is all for your good. Stop looking at challenges as obstacles to your success but rather as gifts, opportunities and tools for your growth and development.
Everything about you is purposeful.
Somewhere inside your story, your experiences and your deepest shame lies your greatest gift to the world. A gift that only you possess and that you can use to make a difference for yourself and for others. You are powerful, valuable, talented and gifted beyond your own comprehension.
And if you want to find where your true power lies, go where you’ve been told to avoid. There you will find your truth and defy all and any expectations about you.