It’s hard to make a life that matters when we’re spending our time reacting to what other people want instead of proactively pursuing the goals and objectives that are most important to us.
Other people and their expectations, priorities, and opinions
“You have a choice in life. You can either live on-purpose, according to a plan you’ve set, or you can live by accident, reacting to the demands of others. The first approach is proactive; the second reactive.” ~ Michael Hyatt
How can we take charge of our own life without being a jerk or de-prioritizing people we care about (e.g. family, friends, clients, boss)?
Other people’s expectations
Some of us tend to spin our wheels a lot, trying to live up to other people’s expectations. This can seriously impair our productivity. It’s hard to get the things done we care about most if we are always being pulled away from those things to deal with things that other people expect of us (or that we assume they expect). It’s hard to make a life that matters, as you define it, if you’re letting other people define how your time should be spent.
One writer has said:
“When you spend most of your time trying to be whatever everyone wants you to be, wearing all kind of masks and costumes based on the role you are expected to be playing, you begin to lose yourself. Because you become so obsessed with this idea of being loved and approved of by everyone you come in contact with, you run around like a mad person, putting mask after mask and costume after costume and after a while, you begin to identify yourself with all of these masks and costumes.” (from “Give up Living Your Life According to Other People’s Expectations and Live It Your Way Instead”)
This is a vivid description of what it looks like when we try to run around and do everything others want us to be. The same writer goes on to say,
“Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media thinks is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need … and eventually, they forget about themselves.”
An important point to think about: If we spend all of our time reacting to what we believe others expect of us without having done the work of knowing who we are and what matters to us, we will lose ourselves.
Are you making choices based on other people’s expectations or what you think they expect? We can do so even without being consciously aware of it. The writer of “Releasing Expectations: 4 Ways to Live Your Life for You” encourages us to ask ourselves some questions about what's being the choices we're making, to become aware of whether (or how much) we are unconsciously making decisions based on others’ expectations.
Two thoughts come to mind when it comes to dealing with other people’s expectations.
One, think deeply about whose expectations matter. Most people’s expectations don’t matter (or shouldn’t). Learn to be aware of when you’re doing things to meet other people’s expectations, and if it’s not someone in that small group of people who matter to you, then considering letting it go.
Second, with respect to those people you care about, communication is key. Sometimes we do things because we think it’s what someone expects of us, but we never ask them what they expect. Instead of assuming, just ask. Have a conversation with your boss, your spouse, your friend… whoever’s expectations are on your mind and driving your behavior. Make sure you understand what they expect and that it’s something you’re okay with doing.
Other people’s priorities
It can be frustrating when we’ve made a plan based on our priorities but it gets derailed by other people’s priorities:
- At work, you're hard at work on a priority project, but your boss or colleagues interrupt with a request or demand to do something else.
- You've planned time on the weekend for a personal project, but your spouse or children want your attention for something that matters to them.
Who decides what's most important for your time, energy, and attention? As one writer has said, though, “You don’t have to value exactly what others value – you just have to respect it.”
On a day-to-day basis, being in a reactive mode will make it harder to accomplish the things that matter most (to you or to anybody else). We need to be proactive, deciding what’s most important and ensuring that our actions reflect our true priorities. This starts with that awareness of what's really important to us.
One example that comes up often, especially in a work context, is email. Some have said that email is a system for delivering other people’s priorities to you. Do you check it first and react to what you find there, or do you decide ahead of time what’s most important and do that first? (That is a challenge for me. I’m trying to put some time into my highest priority project first thing each day rather than attending to email first.)
Chris Brogan has written a great article about how he manages his own business and family. He starts his day by doing something related to his long-term goals, then turns to his important projects. After he's taken care of those high-priority tasks, he focuses on urgent tasks (things with an upcoming deadline). Last on his list is what he calls maintenance tasks–like tending to email.
How do we protect our priorities without ignoring those of the people we answer to? We need to learn to communicate our priorities and work to balance our priorities with what's important to those closest to us.
For example, a boss or client addresses us with a new project that we can’t ignore because they pay the bills. Finding ways to communicate and collaborate on the decision is ideal. With your boss, you can say something like, “I would be happy to help. I’m currently working on this and this. Which of these is most important to you? Which would you like me to do first?” Having that kind of conversation can balance your priorities and theirs.
At home, talk with your spouse or child about your priorities. Let them know their needs are important to you, but you also need time, energy, and attention to do this thing for yourself (or your business). Asking for their input can make a big difference: “How can we arrange things so everybody’s needs get met?” Perhaps suggest a tradeoff: ”I’ll do this for you; can you then do that for me so I have time to work on my project?”
Other people’s opinions
We are social creatures, so we care about what others think of us. But spending a lot of time worrying what certain people think and trying to make sure they think well of me is not a productive way to live.
Wayne Dyer has said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This is so true. We shouldn’t be worrying about what other people think of us. We should live according to our values. Most of the people you encounter don’t really know you; they don’t know your heart, don’t know your journey, don’t know where you’ve been or where you’re going. Their opinion shouldn’t matter.
“If you give too much power to the opinions of others, you will become their prisoner. So never let someone’s opinion define your reality.” (from “18 Reasons to Give Up Trying to Live Up to Everyone’s Expectations” )
Are you living as a prisoner of someone else's opinions?
I don’t think this means we shouldn’t listen to anybody. There is value in listening (thoughtfully) to what other people think. Years ago a man who held a very public role (so a lot of people had opinions about him and what he did) told me that whenever anybody offered criticism, he listened and asked himself, “Is there any truth in that?” He said it was important to look beyond who was delivering it and even beyond their motives, and let himself see whether there was a grain of truth in what they said that could help him become a better person.
This requires a strength of character and a willingness to be totally honest with yourself (something a lot of us aren’t very good at).
It also requires sufficient confidence to not let criticism destroy you or let other people’s opinions override your own good judgment. (He wouldn't change just to please another person, and sought to be strong enough to let the untruthful words go.
Be careful who you allow to speak into your life. Brené Brown has written that she wrote down a short list of people whose opinions she cares about and keeps it in her purse or wallet. She recommends this practice: Write those names and keep the list handy; when you're tempted to agonize over someone's opinion of you who, ask, “Are they on my list?” If not, then let their opinions go.
Keep in mind, too, that often we react to an opinion we assume someone has. We act on what we think they think of us. A lot of us are really good at assuming what others’ expectations or opinions are and sometimes we are just wrong.
“9 times out of 10, when you’re worried about what other people think—it’s a projection. You’re projecting your own fears and your own internalized self-judgment onto other people. You’re pinning on them what you yourself think. So when we take responsibility for letting go of other people’s judgments we empower ourselves to stop being harsh and judgmental with ourselves too.” (from “Stop Letting Other People’s Opinions Control You”)
Finally, remember that you will never please everybody. Don’t try. Go back to that short list of people whose opinions matter. And know that, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to live with what you do.
Here's what I try to remind myself: Stop looking at what other people are doing. They’re not living your life. Comparison is poisonous to productivity. Live your life without worrying about what other people are doing.
(This doesn’t mean we should isolate ourselves from those whose opinions differ from ours. We grow and improve as human beings if we can learn to listen objectively to those we disagree with.)
Finding a balance
There is a tension between living by our own standards and being respectful and loving toward others. Like everything else we do, it requires awareness and intention. It requires knowing yourself and what really matters to you (not what you think should matter to you). It requires trusting yourself to make the right choices for yourself and those you care about. It also requires honoring yourself — not letting others plan your life for you.
What do you think?
Is your thinking or productivity affected by other people’s expectations, priorities, or opinions? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links:
- You Are Not Responsible For Other’s Expectations
- 18 Reasons to Give Up Trying to Live Up to Everyone’s Expectations
- How High Expectations Are Killing Your Productivity
- 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Workplace Productivity
- Give up Living Your Life According to Other People’s Expectations and Live It Your Way Instead
- The Art of Letting Go: Living up to Others' Expectations
- Other’s Priorities Don’t Have to Be Yours
- “Organize Your Business,” by Chris Brogan
- Stop Spending So Much Time on Other People’s Priorities
- On not being ruled by other people's priorities…
- Stop Letting Other People's Opinions Control You
- How to Stop Letting Other People’s Opinions Guide Your Life
- 7 Reasons Why Other People’s Opinions Of You Don’t Matter
- Caring What Other People Think
- “Why We Care About What Other People Think of Us
- Give Up Trying to Live Up to Other People's Expectations
- Are you trying to Live up to Other People's Expectations?
- Releasing Expectations: 4 Ways To Live Your Life for You
- You Can’t Meet ‘Everyone’s’ Expectations. Really.
- Whose Expectations Are We Fulfilling?
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