SOURCE: Karl Shallowhorn/bphope
Learning to define and set your own goals can free you from other people’s expectations and allow you to go beyond your previously conceived limitations.
Growing up as a young child my mother used to reinforce the need for me to try to excel at whatever I did. “Even if you’re a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is,” she would reiterate. This regular kind of prodding produced a dual-pronged response. At first, I accepted her challenge eagerly, thinking that I did have the ability to be the best at whatever I attempted to do. As I got older I came to realize that being “the best there is” wasn’t always possible (if ever).
Then—at the age of 18—bipolar disorder hit. I went from a promising future to one that was very unclear in a matter of weeks. At that point, my hopes and dreams were dashed against the rocks. I was being told what I needed to do just to get better. Essentially, I was powerless.
This whole experience was difficult for my mom. She had such high hopes for me and seeing her only child dealing with such a disabling disease hurt her dramatically. Eventually, she could no longer bear seeing me in the hospital. It was just too much for her.
However, there were times early in my life with bipolar disorder that I had brief periods of remission when I was able to continue school and eventually earn my Bachelor’s Degree. I vividly recall my mom’s mantra during this time, “Either you go to school or get a job. But you’re not going to lay around the house on me!”
Say what you want about this, but it worked, and sometimes too much. During those years of transition, I struggled to meet the expectations of others—not only my mother but also family, school faculty, and even my therapeutic team.
It got to the point that I was trying to please others and failing to take into account my own aspirations (and limitations). I was still healing during this period and I felt the pressure to have to perform in some way or manner to satisfy others.
There were many times during this period that the stress of having to live up to the expectations of others caused me to seriously question what I was capable of. What I came to learn, the hard way was to set goals for myself. In traditional mental health therapy, treatment plans are often utilized for this purpose.
One way I learned later was to approach this using the SMART method of goal setting:
Setting SMART goals are great because they:
- Help one to be more objective
- Quantify what the goal is
- Allow for the individual to set a goal which requires effort and challenges one to go beyond their comfort zone
- Set a distinct time-frame in which to accomplish the goal
So what does this all have to do with expectations? By being clear on what my personal goals are I then have the capacity to understand the difference between what I want to accomplish versus what others want.
In recovery, I’ve strived to go beyond my previously conceived limitations. These are things that I want to do and not what others want me to do. This is the whole idea behind self-determination. I’m the one in the driver’s seat. It’s empowering to realize that I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards. Mind you, I work, have a family, and take on other responsibilities. I’m not saying that I just settle for what I need to do to just get by. Actually, it’s the opposite. I like to go a little bit further in what I try to achieve in life. Some would say that this means I’m goal driven—and yes I am. But these are my goals—not someone else’s.
If you find yourself questioning your ability to succeed in recovery, break your goals into small parts. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Even achieving small goals can be a huge victory.