Remember that person in your lifetime that always picked you last for basketball, or the teacher whose comment contained a thinly veiled reference to you being stupid?
I do. Oh boy I do.
Expectations for our lives come from a lot of places, and we frequently don't even know why we carrying the expectations we have for ourselves, or where they come from. For example: in spite of being an excellent student with very good grades and some involvement in organizations, my high school self fully expected to be rejected from competitive colleges. The result was applying to colleges requiring no writing samples (my strong suit, by the way), and transferring more frequently than a person on the DC Metro.
What on earth caused me to even have that expectation? My fourth grade teacher. Some part of me internalized the idea that I wasn't that bright at a very young age, and even though I worked my tail off, learned the skills necessary to thrive in a non-kinesthetic learner's world, and had huge amounts of academic success, it wasn't until my last year of college I realized I ain't no dummy.
I could get angry at said fourth grade professor (and I do, every once in a while), but I've had to realize it was my decision to live with in this expectation. I missed a lot of opportunities because I thought I would never have a shot. To this day, even with having proof of my academic ability, I let myself be limited by this idea I wasn't smart enough (I wrote an essay to apply to MSU's Epidemiology program two years ago. I only just submitted it, after realizing I wasn't applying because I expected to be rejected. Guess what: I got in).
Are all expectations bad? No. I expect my fiance to help around the house, and he expects the same from me. The result is a nice little balance of work and play. If we have children, I expect him to actively engage in their upbringing. Once again, he has the same expectation of me. These aren't the expectations I'm contemplating though. I'm talking about the expectations that stop us from doing things, being something, or simply improving our lives.
How does one push beyond the expectations we've absorbed? The first step is identifying what is stopping you. This could be stopping you from trying something, learning something, applying to something... whatever. If you think it would be a good thing, and for some reason you can't bring yourself to go after it, digging for the root cause is going to be a big step.
So maybe every time you go to do something, let's take my Epidemiology application as an example, you say "I'll never get in to the program. I'm not smart enough". Ask yourself "Is this true?" If it is true, what makes it true? If it isn't true, what is the point in continuing to say it? You are also allowed to ask yourself "What makes me say I'm not smart enough each time I think about this?" You can come up with a million supports for the statement. I've done plenty of dumb things in my life, but we are looking for that one thing we can hang the statement on, and leave it there to admire as we sail on past. The first time I suspected I wasn't smart enough was fourth grade, so I chose that teacher as the nail to hang up my dunce cap.
Okay, so now we know where this expectation originated. What have we done to prove ourselves wrong? In the case of Epidemiology, I completed a 12 credit certificate through the University of North Carolina. If that isn't proof I can be successful, I don't know what is.
Sometimes our successes aren't so obvious. Sometimes, we have to look for the smaller indicators. I get asked a lot if I am crazy because I've undertaken some pretty strenuous races this year. I say probably, but aside from that, I'm pushing myself beyond my normal expectations. In the face of a 50 mile race, running a marathon seems a bit short. But I ran a marathon, and at the start of that, I didn't know if I could finish it. It is a little victory I get to count. Before that, I had finished a half marathon. The year before that I hadn't run farther than 6.2 miles. I used to tell myself that was the farthest I ever wanted to run, because I didn't know if I could run farther.
Most of us aren't charitable with ourselves. When we look in the mirror, how many people jump up and say "I like me!" Most of us start picking at our blackheads, and contemplating the circumference of our thighs. Counting our successes can be hard. This is where a really good, honest friend can come in handy. One who can say "I remember the time you took on this challenge, you came through it", and you'll believe her.
This year I am expanding my expectations for myself. I'm running a fifty mile race, I'm starting a graduate program, I'm getting married... oh, and I'm turning 30. My challenge is to continue to say "I'm going to try" instead of "I can't do that".
Your challenge: start finding the expectations that set your edges, and see what you can do to move beyond those edges. When we can move past our perceived limits, we can start to see where our next success is going to come from.