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Living Life by Others' Expectations: The Silent Saboteur of Dreams

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21 May '24
5 min read


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In the bustling Indian life, it's commonplace for individuals to prioritize others' expectations over their dreams and desires. From childhood to adulthood, the intricate web of societal norms, familial pressures, and peer influences often steers individuals away from their true aspirations.

Childhood Conditioning
In India, the journey of living by others' expectations begins early. Children are often conditioned to seek approval from parents and teachers. Academic excellence, respectful behavior, and participation in extracurricular activities become measures of success. While guidance is essential, this conditioning often morphs into a lifelong habit of prioritizing others' expectations over personal interests.

Take, for instance, a child who loves dancing but is encouraged to focus on academics because it’s seen as a pathway to a secure future. Over time, the child may abandon their passion for dance, internalizing the belief that academic success is the only valuable pursuit. This early suppression of personal interests sets the stage for future compromises.

The Weight of Parental Expectations
In India, parental expectations play a significant role in shaping career choices. Many individuals pursue professions not out of passion, but to meet familial standards. A classic example is the pressure to become a doctor, engineer, or IAS officer – careers traditionally associated with stability and prestige.

Consider my friend, Ravi, who always dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. However, his parents, both successful engineers, expected him to follow a similar path. Despite his love for cinema, he enrolled in an engineering program. Years later, though successful, Ravi feels unfulfilled and regrets not pursuing his true passion.

Societal Pressures and Peer Influence
Societal expectations extend beyond career choices in India. Social norms dictate lifestyle choices, from marriage and family life to personal hobbies. The pressure to conform can be overwhelming, leading many to abandon their desires in favor of fitting in.

Take the societal expectation of marriage and starting a family by a certain age. Many individuals, especially women, enter relationships or commit to marriage due to societal pressures rather than personal readiness or desire. This often leads to dissatisfaction and strained relationships.

Similarly, peer pressure influences decisions ranging from the trivial to the significant. A person might forsake their love for classical music because their friends prefer Bollywood, or abandon plans of solo travel because it’s seen as unconventional.

The Workplace Conundrum
In Indian professional environments, the need to meet others' expectations can be particularly stifling. Employees often prioritize meeting managerial expectations over their own career aspirations. This might involve accepting roles they are not passionate about or refraining from voicing innovative ideas for fear of rocking the boat.

Anita, a software developer, is a prime example. With a knack for creative problem-solving, she often found her ideas sidelined by a boss who preferred traditional methods. Rather than pursuing opportunities elsewhere or advocating for her vision, Anita conformed, ultimately feeling disengaged and unappreciated in her role.

Realizing the Truth Late in Life
Many individuals realize the impact of living by others' expectations only later in life. Some succeed in making changes, while others struggle and sometimes succumb to the pressures.

Success Stories:

Rahul's Organic Farming Journey: Rahul, a corporate lawyer, realized his passion for organic farming in his late 30s. Despite initial resistance from his family, he pursued his dream and now runs a successful organic farm. His journey exemplifies the fulfillment that comes from following one's passion.

Maya's Artistic Revival: Maya, a former banker, rediscovered her love for painting in her 40s. She left her secure job to become a full-time artist. Today, Maya's work is showcased in galleries across India, and she feels more fulfilled than ever before.

Struggles and Challenges:

Sanjay's Unfulfilled Dreams: Sanjay, a senior executive, always wanted to be a musician. Realizing this late, he tried to balance his demanding job with pursuing music. However, societal and familial expectations made it difficult for him to fully commit. Despite his efforts, Sanjay struggles with regret and feels trapped in a life he didn't choose.

Priya's Entrepreneurial Setback: Priya, in her 50s, attempted to start her own business after decades in a monotonous clerical job. Despite her passion and hard work, she faced numerous setbacks and lacked support from her family. The stress and financial strain eventually forced her to abandon her venture, leaving her disheartened.

Breaking the Cycle
Breaking free from the cycle of living by others' expectations requires self-awareness and courage. It begins with acknowledging personal desires and understanding the sources of external pressures. This introspection can lead to setting boundaries and making conscious decisions aligned with personal values.

Encouraging Authenticity
As a society, fostering environments that encourage authenticity over conformity is crucial. This can be achieved by:

Valuing Diverse Paths: Recognizing and respecting various career and lifestyle choices can reduce the pressure to conform.
Promoting Open Dialogue: Encouraging honest conversations about personal aspirations can help individuals feel supported in their choices.
Celebrating Failures: Viewing failures as learning opportunities rather than stigmas can embolden individuals to take risks in pursuing their dreams.

Living by others' expectations is a common but often silent saboteur of personal dreams and fulfillment in India. By acknowledging and challenging these pressures, individuals can reclaim their lives and pursue paths that truly resonate with their passions and values. It’s a difficult journey, but one that promises a more authentic and satisfying life.

Category:Personal Experience


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Written by Nitin Mistry