Pressure and Expectations

Often success appears as a fleeting, momentary occurrence, present only briefly before my mind moves onto the next thing I have yet to achieve or something else that I’m not doing so well on. It’s never been about pausing and taking the time to enjoy my own victories, however small or large they may be. To me, success is expected, and rather than focussing on where things are going right, often my focus will be on where I’m falling short. There’s always room for improvement.

It’s not the case that this is the result of any external pressure from friends or family, just my own method of driving me towards success.

And it’s utterly incompatible with a concept of self-worth and confidence tied to your own successes.

If you can’t stop to appreciate when you’ve done well, then it goes without saying that there won’t be much increase in your self-confidence even when you succeed. Despite recognising this over the course of many years, I’ve never been able to fully break free of this way of thinking.

Rather than focussing on internal validation, instead my confidence and self-worth has tended focus on external validation and the praise of others. External validation is fantastic for motivation and affirmation in your efforts if its forthcoming, but this isn’t always the case (irrespective of whether or not you deserve it).

If anything, reliance on such a volatile source of motivation is sometimes even worse than the constant self-deprecation I’m used to applying, but it’s so much less mentally tiring than feeling like I’m always falling short because of my own high expectations.

Equally, measuring yourself against others on a constant basis is a sure-fire way to demoralise yourself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at something I’ve achieved whether it be academic, sporting or career-based, achievements which were things to be truly proud of, and gone in my head “but it wasn’t as good as what others have done”.

It’s easy enough justify this as a motivation mechanism, a way to push myself onwards and upwards, and it’s so easy to slip into this line of thinking, constantly comparing yourself to your peers.

But sometimes the time needs to be taken to appreciate success in absolute rather than relative terms. Otherwise it can feel like you’re no longer in control of your own self-confidence and over time, the result is a fear of the judgement of others simply because I’ve made it such an important part of how I view myself.

While I’ve never been able to fully put this thought process to rest, I’ve had moments of reprieve by considering a very simple fact: you’re not doing these things for others, you’re doing them for yourself. Yes in some cases success relative to others is the end goal, but equally other times success will be measured against your own benchmarks and objectives.

Similarly external validation and praise should be a supplement to your own confidence in yourself: all the praise in the world from others won’t mean a thing if you don’t believe it.

What others think will always be important to me, but it should never be as important as what I think of myself. With that realisation comes responsibility: it’s my job to define my successes and celebrate them where I think it’s appropriate. Sometimes I’ll probably be too harsh, and sometimes over-zealous, but as long as I take the time to appreciate my own successes, at least I’m in the driver’s seat with a great view of where to aim for next.