Society and Expectations: Negotiating Between Boundaries

Written by: Keerthana Raveendran

What Happened to the Last Five Marks?

And just like that, there goes the thrill of getting a 95% on an exam.

I remember having heard this line a lot as a kid. Flashback to elementary school days, running home with an A+ test with a sticker at the top of a  huge smiley face, or that Frosted Flakes tiger who roars “GRRRREAT JOB!”. My mom would take a look at it, even smile at the nifty sticker, but will always ask, even in her best mood: “What happened to the last five marks?”

Reflecting on it now, it’s odd to think that the pressures of society’s expectations have been instilled on children from such a young age, and that these same expectations rest with us today. We’re supposed to be intelligent individuals or benevolent role-models or financially independent workers, or extremely cultured folk. We spend our whole lives attempting to become someone we think is socially acceptable, only to find that we will probably never fit these standards.

The truth of the matter is that there are just too many people on this planet, and there is absolutely no way we can meet each and every person’s expectations. At the same time, we expect our friends and family to have these expectations for us—it’s a motivational tool, and knowing that somebody else out there wants the same things for us that we want for ourselves is comforting, because it tells us that we’re doing something right. It allows us as individuals to evaluate our own needs and our own goals for the future. Where we run into trouble is when our own expectations conflict those from the outside. And while it may be our instinct to try to change ourselves to please somebody, that one change is only going to displease another.

The key is to find the balance between compromise and confrontation. It’s okay to yield on minor issues and take a stand on things that matter. It’s okay pay attention to constructive criticism, because it usually comes from a loved one who cares enough to help. At the same time, when at the crossroads of a big decision, it’s alright to be the only person to make it—after all, you’re the one that’s going to have to live with it. When a major decision in your life is made by an outside party, and this decision yields negative results, it’s hard not to resent the people who imposed their ideas on you; it’s hard not to regret having listened. And the terrible thing about regret is that it’s the one emotion we cannot talk ourselves out of feeling; we cannot go back in time and rethink our choices.

It’s great to take everybody’s opinion to mind and attempt to negotiate between them to try to be this Super-Human Person of Awesomeness. But sometimes it’s okay to think about what’s right for you, and it doesn’t make you any worse of a person.

So for today, I’m going to give you some homework. Sit down and write down every expectation you feel, from family, from friends, even from strangers. Write down every task you’re supposed to do, every behavioural trait you’re supposed to take on, every emotion you’re supposed to feel. Done? Good. Now rip it up. And just for today, do your own thing.


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