Takeaway: Managing the expectations of our family, friends, and society is difficult during young adulthood. In this post, I'll share some tips on how you can learn to let go of the expectations of others while living the life you want.
The world expects so much from you. What you should look like, who you should date, what your career should be, how much money you should make. Notice the number of times I used the word “should.” There are all kinds of pressures placed on you by society, friends, and your family. Don’t ever “should” yourself.
Maybe you have parents who expect a lot from you. They want you to graduate college top of your class, find a good-paying job, make the “right” career decisions, marry the “right” person, have kids – the list goes on.
Perhaps you don’t have parents with super high expectations. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to live up to their standards and make them proud. But what about your standards? What about what you want for yourself? How do you let go of people’s expectations and live your life the way you want to live it?
As a young adult, there are so many expectations you have to live up to based on what society and your parents say. A few are gender roles, what kind of career you have, how much money you make, what you look like, your relationships, your sexuality, and whether you’re going to start a family.
Gender roles have changed a lot since your parents were young adults, but society still has ideas of what is expected of certain genders. Women are still fighting for a seat at the table, while men are expected to be masculine and demonstrate their “manliness” with everything they do.
Society expects women to be feminine and work hard, but not too hard. Women who are ambitious are often portrayed as manipulative or rude, while men are rewarded for ambition. Conversely, men who choose to marry, have a family, and stay home with the kids instead of becoming CEOs of large corporations are considered feminine. Society is backward with its expectations of us, and it can be hard to navigate societal and parental expectations as a young adult and figure out how to let go of expectations.
You are of a generation that is expected to go to college. You’re supposed to have a high-powered career.
Your parents may place a huge emphasis on going to college and having a great career. This could be because they either didn’t have the opportunity themselves and want that for you or because they had the privilege of college and want you to make something of yourself the way they did.
Everyone has an idea of what their career should look like. If you decide to ditch the route of the typical 9-5 job, it can be hard for your family to understand why you chose a different path. If you choose to start a family and be a stay-at-home parent, you may feel as if you’re not doing anything because you don’t have a full-time paying job.
Social media doesn’t help because you see only what the people you follow want you to see, which is only their successes. No one talks about their failures or mistakes on social media. So if you’re not advancing as fast as you’d like or making as much money as you want, you start comparing yourself to others. This is a slippery slope, and it can be hard to figure out how to let go of expectations when it comes to your career.
It’s not socially acceptable to talk about how much money you make, yet society places a huge emphasis on making money.
Success comes down to so much more than how much money you make – are you happy with your job? Are you happy in other areas of your life? That’s worth more than a six or seven-figure salary any day.
But I recognize that it can be hard to navigate salaries and ask for raises or make enough money to afford the lifestyle you want. And it can be even harder if you’re watching your friends make more money at a faster rate than you are.
Society plays a huge role in expectations related to appearance. Women are supposed to be thin and pretty, by society’s standards of course. Men are supposed to be tall, muscular, and handsome. There’s little room for people whose gender expression does not match their physical anatomy. People are just starting to wrap their brains around seeing who they identify as a man wearing a dress or makeup.
Conventional beauty is defined by societal expectations. Fatphobia is still very much a thing. People who identify as fat, particularly women, are body shamed and told they’re unhealthy. It’s so hard when it comes to letting go of expectations around what society, friends, and family expect you to look like.
Dating looks very different now than when your parents were in college and grew into young adulthood. With so many people on dating apps, a date with a new person every week (or several times a week) is common.
Maybe your family’s pressuring you to find your soulmate and you’re not ready for a serious relationship. Or perhaps you’ve found someone you really care about and your family doesn’t like them. Sometimes it’s because they’re not good for you, but sometimes it’s because your family doesn’t understand you or your needs.
It’s important to take stock of your relationship and decide for yourself whether this person is good for you and if they are, how you want to manage your family’s expectations of the relationship.
Some parents put pressure on young adults to settle down and get married. That may not be what you want right now. And if it is, that’s ok too.
This is a big one, especially for people your age. Many of your parents married and started having kids young.
Some parents expect their adult kids to meet their soulmates in college and settle down and have a family. But many young adults nowadays, even if they want kids, don’t have them until they’re well into their thirties.
A lot of people are choosing not to have children for personal reasons. This may cause friction with parents and grandparents who expect grandchildren, but ultimately it’s your choice. You can’t decide to have a child you don’t want just because your mom wants to be a grandmother very badly.
Now is the time in your life where you are exploring who you are and who you want to be. This is when you make mistakes, go on adventures, and find a community.
The person you are in college is going to be different from the person you grow into. Your early and mid-twenties are a crucial time to be figuring out what matters to you and what you want to do with your life.
The concept of “what do I want to be when I grow up” doesn’t ever go away – even your parents are still figuring out the answer to that question. People change careers multiple times over the course of their lives, and the job you choose now doesn’t necessarily lock you into that career path forever.
The same goes for dating and friendships. Now is the time to figure out the kinds of people you want to spend time with, romantically or platonically.
Letting go of people’s expectations can be really hard. The most important part of this time of your life, while you’re growing into yourself and finding who you are, is to do what actually makes you happy as opposed to what society and your parents say should make you happy.
Remember that there is no timeline for when you should be married, when you should have a house, kids, a fully formed career, etc. Society may make it seem that way, but we’re all on our own unique paths. There is no defined age where you must complete these different milestones!
As you look towards the end of college and the beginning of adulthood in the “real world” you start to carry the weight of people’s expectations of you. It’s hard to go against the grain, especially if that means making choices or expressing yourself in ways that don’t match your parents’ expectations of you.
When families aren’t supportive, it’s important to look to your chosen family. This is the group of people who love and support you no matter what. It might include a significant other, a group of friends, your friends’ parents, neighbors, other relatives, etc.
It’s important to find your community while you figure out who you are and who you want to be. If you surround yourself with the right people you can express yourself however you want. It can be difficult when that self-expression isn’t met with acceptance by your family or certain friends, but at the end of the day, the important thing is to live a life that makes you happy, not a life that your parents want for you or that society tells you is the right way.
Still feeling unsure about how to handle letting go of expectations? You don’t need to navigate it alone.
If you’re struggling to meet people’s expectations, particularly your parents’ expectations, have a real conversation with them about who you are and what you want out of life. They may not understand your choices. They may even distance themselves from you. But that doesn’t mean you should apologize for who you are and what you want.
Therapy can help you make sense of dealing with how to let go of expectations. You’ll leave our sessions feeling more confident, equipped with the tools you need to manage societal and parental expectations, and live a life that feels authentic and true to you.
If you’d like to learn more about how therapy can help you learn how to let go of people’s expectations, reach out today (I help teens and young adults in the state of New York). Check out my tool that will help you to learn more about your perfectionism here!
If you are a people-pleaser that struggles to let go of people’s expectations, click here to take a two-minute quiz to clarify and uncover your need to please. After you connect with your personal archetype, you'll receive resources to support you in overcoming those pesky people-pleasing tendencies!
Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.