Prisoner of my Own Expectations

As many of us have experienced as a result of the ripples created by the COVID pandemic, my employment was recently impacted and I find myself navigating uncharted waters. I have NEVER been without work. I have NEVER not felt productive and earned my keep. I have NEVER not had a reason to get up in the morning and get ready for my day. What do I do now? This is not the first time in my career that I have been laid off, except last time we were not going through a crisis. Jobs were plentiful and luckily I had a network of individuals who jumped right in and helped me get back to work within a week. This time it’s very different. There is alot of instability in the job market. The job that may be posted today may be getting eliminated tomorrow. So needless to say, that reality has hit me very quickly. Now I am not here to complain because I am very fortunate that my prior employer took care of me in the end and I will be ok financially for a good amount of time but the reality is that time does go by quickly. Although I have a strong resume and great recommendations, the emotions that we go through with any sort of loss have taken their toll on me and has been the case with many others I have been in contact with under the same circumstances. At first there was shock. The words which were spoken to me seemed to come out in slow motion. This can’t be happening, I thought to myself. Then the uncontrollable tears flowed for days. Not necessarily due to what had happened but as a result of feeling like I had somehow failed. Then the feeling of doubt and disappointment set in. My confidence was gone….not one shred of it left. Getting up in the morning for the last two weeks was a challenge. Engaging in normal activities was beyond what I was capable of and yet I had to do it all because I am the sole breadwinner and support for my two kids. Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself encountering any of these emotions? I want you to know that you are not alone. It’s normal to feel the different stages of grief. I am relieved to say that it is in the last phase, acceptance, where clarity comes.

I have realized that my anxiety and angst has been as a result of me making myself a prisoner to my own expectations. Prisoner to the salary I “needed”. Prisoner to the expectations I have for my lifestyle. Prisoner to the career path I had set up for myself in my head. We are conditioned to believe that in order to be successful we need to have it all. A beautiful family, beautiful house, phenomenal vacations, fancy titles, and a heavy salary which in the end is not all that heavy as it gets used up to finance all of the “beautiful” and “phenomenal” things which make us appear successful. I have always prided myself on saying that I don’t need those things and can live the simple life. Truth is, life just called me out on my own BS. Although I was never one for celebrity level glitz and glam, I did get caught in the “need” to establish a certain lifestyle which I was not fortunate to have growing up. I put unnecessary pressure on myself to provide a certain lifestyle for my kids which I could have only dreamed of as a child. Now before you snicker and assume I spoil my kids, it is not that extreme. What I am referring to are simple expenses which in the end were not necessary but created expectations for me which made me a prisoner to a career path which I was miserable in. For example, do I really need 450 cable channels? Do we really need to pay for annual passes to all of Florida’s theme parks and go every other month? Do I really need to spend $100 a month of tech applications. I was so caught up in the momentum of how life had evolved that I did not stop to think for one moment how it was impacting my energy and what it was doing to me. My mind was clouted and the pressure kept mounting on. Does that sound familiar to you? Can you relate? Now I find myself having to check what my priorities truly are and what I need vs want. It’s also an opportunity to teach my kids a lesson. While I always enforce a strong work ethic with my kids, I do feel that there is an opportunity to learn to appreciate the simpler things in life.

As I mentioned earlier, there are stages to the grief process and as I have entered the final stage, I am grateful for this opportunity. This may very well be my chance to realize some of my personal ambitions which I otherwise may not have had the chance to. This may very well be the lesson I needed to break from the structures which have stiffled my creative spirit. This could also be the lesson I needed to live a more simple life. Gratefully I have been pretty good with my finances and have been able to build up a bit of a safety net. I know that this is not the case of many people and I am in a fortunate situation but I do not take it for granted.

Regardless, I realized that there was an endless pressure which I had put on myself to continue and stay on a certain path. Only now that I have been away from the noise of it all do I realize how truly unhappy I was. I would tell people that I loved my job and what I did. Truth is….not so much. True, I love what I do as ultimately I help people but was what I was doing the only way to help others and make a living doing it? The need to rechannel my strengths has come to call and it is only through the acceptance of my current situation  that I am able to see that reality. Point of the story here is, that if we are faced with a life changing challenge, we can either sit in the anger and worry or we can sit back and see what we could do better or differently to prevent the burn out and unhappiness that our pursuit for perfection creates for us. We need to stop being prisoners to our own expectations!

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