For me, the notion of expectation has existed for as long as I can remember.
I think it is easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing rather than what we want to do. I saw this a lot in high school when friends would choose courses and degrees to appease their parents. These friends weren’t choosing to study these courses because they were passionate about the topics, they were choosing them because they thought they ‘should’ be.
I first confronted this juxtaposition in my early teens. While my parents had always been supportive of me doing what I enjoyed, for as long as I enjoyed it, I still found myself imposing expectations on myself.
As I progressed through elite sport and high school, I began to feel the stakes getting higher. One year I was about to compete at my first nationals, the next I was preparing for my first Paralympics. It all happened so quickly I hadn’t spared a moment to think about whether this was what I wanted to be doing.
It was 2018 following my first Commonwealth Games, I was sitting in the living room of my shared apartment in the athlete village. My gold medal, only a few hours old, was sitting on the table in front of me. It was in a beautiful wooden box that still had that fresh, woody smell. The medal itself was bright and reflected any light that bounced off its smooth sides. I sat there and stared at it as though waiting for it to do something. The more I looked at it, the more I realised that I felt absolutely nothing.
It was this numb feeling that inspired my break from athletics. I knew I wanted to commit myself to my year 12 studies, I no longer wanted to feel the pressure of elite sport. This distinction was obvious for me because I could feel it. Thinking about how I would devote my time to studying and mastering a good essay filled me with a sense of satisfaction that had been missing during my time at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. I knew that I should study hard for my exams but for me, the catalyst for action was wanting to study hard.
Once I completed year 12 and had been accepted into my top preference university I was again forced to reflect. This was the first time in my life that I knew I was being permitted a fresh start. I was graduating not only from school but from my teen years and the expectations I had failed to question for so long. Funnily enough, this was when I decided to enter back into elite sport. On my own terms and in my own way. I knew exactly what needs had to be met for me to feel passionate about what I was doing. Never again did I want to feel like I was choosing to do something out of expectation rather than passion.
I packed up 19 years of my life in Melbourne and moved to Brisbane. I found a coach whom I clicked with and who saw me as a whole person. I absorbed the new lifestyle and independence and let it work for me.
For me, this idea of ‘want’ and ‘should’ is how I try to determine the things I choose to spend my time doing. Of course, obligation comes up in life, there will always be things we have to do but don’t want to do. For me it is about making sure those bigger choices, the ones that take up 80-90 per cent of our time are the ones we should consider reflecting on.
I realised that a life lived in service of what I thought everyone else wanted me to be doing was not only dull but also incredibly unfulfilling. We are more than just other people’s projected expectations. Most of us are in a privileged position to have a life filled with choices that shape who we are and what we do. I strongly believe that if we have that privilege then it is our responsibility to use it wisely.
I encourage you to think about what you spend 80-90 per cent of your time doing. Think about how it brings you a sense of purpose or joy.
If it doesn’t?
What are some things you could do?
What might fill your life with a little bit more ‘want’ and a lot less ‘should?’