Did you know recent studies have proven that more than any other generation in history we are the most disappointed as we enter adulthood?
Why? According to Jean M. Twenge in her book, Generation Me, it’s because we have unrealistic expectations. She explains, “Young people (yep, that’s us) have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness.” Wow. That’s uplifting, right? But it makes sense. I have seen it in my own life and in those around me. Those damn expectations.
I know because I had and do still have them. I’ve probably had my life planned out since about the age of 10. In my head I imagined something along the lines of: Get into a good college. Get good grades. Get a great job that doesn’t feel like a “job” because I am so passionate about what I am going that I won’t even call it work. Meet a wonderful man who also is passionate about the same thing. Fall in love, get married, buy a house, have some kids and save some money to travel.
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS
But, if you’re anything like me you’ve probably learned that’s not exactly how life goes. About two years ago I slowly began to admit that my life may not go how I expected it. And that was a turning point. I let go of the fact that I may not be married by 25 or own a home by 30. Or ever. I let go of the fact that I may not have that dream job, at least not right now. I admitted that my group of friends will never quite mirror the fantasy world of Friends on TV. I recognized for the first time that maybe my expectations of what I thought would happen, were actually holding me back from experiencing the joy of what could happen. And I believe this is a recipe for feeling “stuck” or restless.
I think sometimes we feel “stuck” or restless because there is something inside that needs attention. Usually restlessness seems to come when unmet expectations intersect with a loss of hope and direction.
I don’t think there is simple solution and I am not necessarily advocating that a move, or job change will fix everything. Sometimes I think it can make the feeling worse. What I am saying is, it’s worth paying attention to. Ask yourself these questions: Why are you frustrated every day at work? Where do you find yourself feeling most alive? Or where did you in the past? Can you incorporate that into your life right now? When do you find yourself feeling most lonely? Or most hopeful?
LIFE DOESN’T ALWAYS GO AS PLANNED
For the past nine years I lived and worked in Santa Barbara. I went to college and then grad school there. I had wonderful friends. I dated some. I had a great teaching job. And I never thought I would leave. But there was this unsettling restlessness. Life hadn’t quite gone how I had expected. I started to listen to this small, quiet voice that had been buried under the busyness of life. At 27, I realized that I needed to let go of what I had planned, in order to make space for something new. I never thought I would take a year off from teaching. I never imagined coming to Guatemala. And I certainly didn’t imagine wanting to stay longer than a year. But it’s funny how life has a way of giving us exactly what we need, when we least expect it.
The biggest change in my life has not been a new address or new employer or new country for that matter, but rather it’s been a shift in how I see my expectations limiting me. I read this quote a year or so ago and it has stuck with me. In her book Journaling as a Spiritual Practice, Helen Cepero, describes the difference between exceptions and hope.
“Understanding the difference between hope and expectation is critical…Hope longs for good but is able to be flexible about how that good might appear. Expectation grasps at solutions and becomes easily attached to outcomes. When we are hopeful, our imagination and creativity flourish. But when we are locked into expectations, it is easy to turn our pictures of the possible future into an idol….Expectations assume that everything will turn out as predicted…but sometimes our expectations must die in order for us to live in hope.”
My hope is that our generation can begin to understand the value in letting go of certain expectations, to make room for hope, creativity and imagination to flourish.
Michelle Acker is a “California girl with a Guatemalan heart, who is finding out that living life in-between can be somewhat complicated.” Find more Michelle at http://simplycomplicated.me/
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