Why do We Have Such High Expectations of Ourselves?

I have been asking myself this question a lot lately. When life doesn’t go my way, I not only have anxiety because I lack control over certain events or situations in life, but I also stress over not obtaining or succeeding the goals and expectations I’ve set for myself. In many cases, I’m afraid of failure.

I know I’m not the only one — Why is it that we tend to put so much emphasis on our goals and expectations that it becomes a make it or break it mentality?

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you go take a listen to Episode 4 of ClaireChats the podcast; it’s available on the website as well as pretty much every other streaming audio site. I talk about unrealistic expectations and how expectations are meant to change, and we bring on a special guest who shares some of her own personal experiences. It’s fantastic!

Now, certain goals and expectations like getting a full-time job, moving out, getting married, paying off a credit card… they’re all seemingly desirable things and there’s nothing wrong with having goals or expectations like this in life. However, sometimes our motivations to achieve goals or live up to certain expectations can be flawed or rigid.

“Well if I don’t do this, my parents will be disappointed and angry.”

“If I can’t get a job and keep it, my spouse won’t want to stay with me.”

“If I don’t lose weight, I won’t be attractive.”

“If I can’t get rid of this bad habit, I’ll never be a good person.”

Here we are. In our attempts to “succeed” at life, we are afraid to fail. We are afraid to fail because failure is an un-fun feeling. Not only that, but failure sometimes makes us feel like we aren’t good enough.

“If I don’t do this thing, accomplish this, become that, therefore I am a failure! I am nothing!”

A lot of the goals I had set up for myself for 2020 were foiled, cut short, ruined, whatever word you’d like to use. They just didn’t happen. My reaction? I immediately blamed myself for not being good enough. I made myself at fault; not just at fault but solely responsible for my goals not coming to fruition. I put myself down. “I’m a failure! I am nothing because I couldn’t accomplish this!” And when others would accomplish the things I had expected of myself, like a full-time job, moving out, etc., I hated myself even more for it.

Obviously, this isn’t logical. If any year has been super unpredictable, it’s 2020. COVID-19, lockdown, the political climate, travel bans, etc. In many cases, 2020 has created one big exception to those who had plans, goals, or expectations this year that didn’t happen. But in other cases, what if we don’t have an “excuse” or “exception?” Does that mean you are a failure?

For some, you might think that this is completely normal, to “feel” like a failure when you don’t properly achieve what you expected of yourself. Some might even say “It’s good motivation!” Motivation to try harder, aim higher, whatever Nike quote you’d like to throw in there. But there’s a difference from feeling like a failure and having failed. The problem is, when we feel like failures, it’s because we are trying to achieve a level of “worth” through our expectations where we are finally “good enough” for something. Often that thing is success, love, acceptance or happiness.

This mentality ties our goals and expectations to our identity. “If I don’t achieve this, I am nothing, If I don’t do this, I am a failure. I am worthless. I am a disgrace. I am insignificant. Unloved. Not valued.” The list goes on. Ever heard of the sore losers in sports? The ones that end up having a tantrum when they don’t win, or make a mistake? Where they freak out because they feel like failures when they worked SO hard to win? Take that concept, but multiply it, and put it in all areas of your life. Now it’s not just about a sport. It’s about identity. About the value of “self.” People work hard to try to earn God’s love and other people’s love (and acceptance) all the time. But God describes love plainly as a gift given to us that can never be earned, nor can it ever be taken away.

We need to separate our failures from our value, because God clearly lays out our value, whether we are Christians or not. Being human in general comes with inherent value in God’s eyes. He loves all His children.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16)

“Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)

And we happen to hold SO much value to God, that He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, to offer us salvation, a chance at a relationship with Him forever. Many of us will never fully understand the power of that act.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7)

When we work towards trying to exceed our own expectations so that we feel worth something, we are trying to earn success, happiness, or in most cases, love and acceptance. In fact, in many cases, we create these unbelievably high expectations for ourselves and tell ourselves that if we can’t accomplish them, then we aren’t good enough or that God doesn’t love us, or that no human could. It might sound dramatic, but there are a LOT of people who operate this way.

So if our expectations aren’t set on trying to earn love/acceptance/etc., then how should they be shaped? What kind of expectations are appropriate? Are your current expectations leaving you frustrated?

“If you’re constantly unhappy and disappointed with who you are and what you do, then I think you have to ask yourself if you are really seeking to be the person God wants you to be… Or are you instead, trying to live up to your idea of who you should be?”

Striving to be who God calls us to be… it’s not meant to be frustrating, because He calls us to be how He created us to be. Good. In His Image, knowing full well that we will fail at this because of sin along the way.

“Then God said ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

Because humans are imperfect and sinful, trying to reflect God’s image isn’t always easy. In fact, we tend to overcomplicate it and get distracted with things that don’t matter, but that we believe will add to our value, character, etc. Then we stumble and fall. We fail. But there’s hope.

“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”

What’s that mean? It’s believing in Jesus and his sacrifice.

God knows that we are going to fail. Failure is inevitable. He knows we aren’t going to be perfect. That we will get sidetracked. That we will struggle with following Him and His commandments. But we don’t have to get frustrated when we do fail at things, especially when we are truly trying to be Christ-like. That’s the whole reason why God sent Jesus. He knew we would never stop sinning, and that if He didn’t send Jesus, that we would all have to be brought to justice and condemned at His hand because He is the perfect judge. But Jesus’s sacrifice forgave us ALL. It’s not a matter of “what if I don’t achieve this” anymore, or “what if I don’t live up to this expectation.” God already knows that most of the time, we won’t.

God is love. Unconditional love. And salvation has one condition. Jesus. To be believed through our words, hearts, and actions. That’s why we strive to be Christ-like. Not because we can earn God’s love, acceptance, or our salvation. Because it is good in itself. Because God calls us to honor Him as we should. Because we seek to please Him, which will lead to rewards in heaven. Because those are worthy expectations to live by.

It’s ok to have goals. It’s ok to have personal expectations, outside of God’s expectations. But our personal expectations are sometimes meant to be adjusted. Our goals can be fluid and not so rigid. And failures are just that — failures. They do not define our worth or value. God does, and He speaks clearly as to the importance you hold in His heart.

So take it a little easy on yourself with your own goals and expectations and, if you’re like me, remember that life doesn’t look the same for everyone. Strive to serve God and others first rather than worrying about you. Know that if you expected something of yourself that doesn’t happen the way you want it to, that it’s OK. Continue to pursue God, love yourself, understand your value through God’s lens, and be motivated to push on knowing the TRUTH!

#antiselfhelp #selfimprovement #understandingGod #Jesusmatters #Unrealisticexpectations #expectations #lifegoals #howtomanagefailure #dealingwithfailure #fearoffailure

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