Living With Unreasonable Expectations (Of Yourself)

What unreasonable expectations do you have of yourself?

I spent a Monday morning a few weeks back at a seminar focused on leadership anxiety. I don’t feel particularly ‘anxious’ at this point in life so the topic didn’t ‘feel’ especially relevant, but I have often found you can learn more from good presenters with a less relevant topic than attending a seminar with a pertinent subject and a less than inspiring presenter.

It’s different to saying ‘I have high expectations of myself.’ The word he used was ‘unreasonable‘. I want to have high expectations. I want to do excellent work at whatever I do, I want to be continually improving, and not standing still, but I have been grappling with the idea that some things are just beyond my capacity.

So Steve Cuss was right up there with the quality presenters – engaging, funny and able to make his content relevant even to someone who thought he felt quite at peace. That said one of the cracker questions he asked that I have actually been mulling over for the last month or so was ‘what unreasonable expectations do you have of yourself?

As we chatted briefly around the table that Monday morning it floored me just how many unreasonable expectations I have of myself. And not just unreasonable – more like utterly ridiculous

For example:

  1. I will not get old. (Yeah… really dumb…) My body will not fail me. I will not lose strength, power, capacity. I will be able to work as hard now as when I was 44 and started my business. What’s bizarre is that I consistently operate mentally with these expectations – but my body is telling me that it’s time to wake up to where this is headed!
  2. I can run two businesses simultaneously while pastoring and writing. I don’t know what kind of brain fart I had that saw me think a new business would fit well with my life… It’s been the busiest 9 months of our lives in a long time – and I got a yellow card from Danelle recently – a reminder that my unreasonable expectations don’t just affect me.
  3. I should be able to surf at the same level I did at 25 years old. What is wrong with me? I am slow to my feet, less agile and I get scared in big waves that I will get held down beyond my lung capacity. A couple of weeks back we spent a week in the Margaret River region and I didnt surf. I was disappointed in myself and felt frustrated, but I also know what I could be ‘that guy’ in the line up who gets in everyone else’s way and generally is a danger to himself and others. Oh… But I should just push thru and paddle out! The confidence will return right?…
  4. I should be able to push on past the pain of my various injuries (back, knees, elbows etc) and just keep going. I know my body is telling me to slow down but I am struggling to give it a hearing. I don’t feel like the idea that weakness and frailty should ever be a reality in my life.

But they are… Most of my unreasonable expectations relate to my physical capacities and ability to perform. Truth is, I am 58 and getting older and this body that I have given a fair flogging to over the years firstly thru sport and then thru work is slowly breaking. I feel like a car with 300 000kms on the clock. Still good for a bit longer but just be aware that seals will go, internals are wearing out and one day it is just not gonna be worth repairing…

I don’t like this. I object to this process…

Too bad huh?

I shouldn’t be feeling this way I tell myself. I am still strong and able. I can keep going!

But let’s be frank it’s an utterly unreasonable expectation to think that my 58 year old self will have the same physical capacity as my 25 year old self – even my 45 year old self. Where did this expectation come from? (I know… A question for a counsellor…)

And the juggling I have been doing the last 6 months would have been a fair challenge for anyone, but for a bloke who has been looking to slow down and do more writing it was a backward step.

And then there is the bulge around the waist line that I see creeping and I remind myself that I can shake those kgs in a few hard weeks… But with all of the pain issues I haven’t been able to get (properly) on top of this weight issue in the last 5 or 6 years. But I still believe that ‘if I wanted to’ I could demolish the fat in a snap… Yeah right.

So I am conscious of my unrealistic expectations. I am aware of them – but I can’t say I actually want to let go of them.

I don’t want to admit weakness physically or mentally. I don’t want to accept that maybe one day I may have to sell the surfboard and call it a day, or stop laying lawn for people, or hiking for half a day in the bush.

I am wrestling with the idea that I am beyond middle age and now in that in strange space between middle age and old age. (I was actually asked today if I was over 60 and eligible for a seniors discount… ‘No! I’m only 58 1/2!)

Even as I write this I know that there is a reality I am not engaging with – I am looking away from it and almost pretending that I am going to ‘snap out’ of this space.

My pain will disappear, my energy will increase, my body will magically fix itself… I will once again paddle out in big waves and feel confident. I will start running again, I will match it with the young guys on the work site… And so it goes on.

It’s simple BS.

But this post doesn’t end with a revelation that helps me reach peace with myself. I still sit here hoping that the aging process will somehow reverse, that I will return to the feeling of power and strength I had as a younger man.

I know it is unreasonable and I am hoping that one day I will come to a place of contentment with the realities that I am currently at war with.

And yes, I know I should take hope in the biblical story of new bodies in the resurrection, but right now that feels a bit distant and ethereal and my memories of better days are still taunting me.

And yes, I am aware that my years of life experience give me wisdom and credibility I didn’t have in my youth. My contributions now may be more to do with relationships and ‘giving back’. But I still envy those who are my age and un-plagued by injuries and ailments.

Anyone else have this struggle to deal with aging and the loss of physical capacity?

Do you one day just come to terms with it?

(Asking for a friend of course…)

3 thoughts on “Living With Unreasonable Expectations (Of Yourself)

  1. I was 56 when I walked through the high Andes to Manchu Picchu. Jeanne was 55. It took my knees 2 years to recover. But I’ve discovered we can do things and actually put on muscle. It’s interesting

  2. Yeah I hiked all round tassie last year but the back pain that was fixed and now has returned is really messing with my walking.
    Ironically I can surf no problems now – but I’m just a bit out of practise.
    I always take the tack – that I don’t have cancer or similar so life is actually mostly very good.

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