I’ve been spending a lot of time working on me. Learning about me. Growing me. Shaping me. Liking me. Hating me. Challenging me. Testing me.
In many ways, it feels very self-centered. Just look at how many times I wrote ‘me’ in that last paragraph! What I’m really starting to figure out though is that it’s not as self-centered as it sounds. By focusing on me, I’m giving those around me a better version of myself than they had before.
Even though I know that to be true, I often find myself making comparisons. Not to where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, but instead to all of the people that I see reflected around me. I look out in the world and it’s so easy to see all the things I think I should be, instead of all of the things that I already am.
As a person who has always had ridiculously high, and often unrealistic, expectations of herself and one that has always felt that I need to earn everything, I’m wrestling with a new idea. What would it look like to lower my expectations, but still hold the bar high?
I know, how can I both lower something and hold it high?!? Hence, the wrestling.
Here’s the thing though. What if lowering ones expectations isn’t really about lowering them, but recalibrating? What if the idea of lowering an expectation is actually about lessening the amount of expectations one puts on oneself?
On any given day, I have a zillion expectations of myself.
But here’s what I’m realizing. This list is not realistic (especially given that it’s a fraction of the list and a lot of the embarrassing ones didn’t make the cut).
I am forced to remind myself, every day, multiple times a day, that I am not superwoman. I cannot be all things to all people, myself included. When I try to do that, I spread myself too thin and am no good to anyone.
So here’s my theory. What if I look at my expectations differently? What if I focus on just a few (like one or two)? What if I zero in on those and give it my very best? Raise the bar on just those few things and let the others go?
Although, it’s a concept I’ve been wrestling for a while, it really hit me the other day. I have a cousin that’s just a year older than me. We haven’t seen each other in forever - literally forever. I think we were probably eight or nine last time we saw each other. We used to get together in the summer for a week. She’d come to me or I’d go to her. It was a big deal. Then, for some reason, it stopped. We drifted apart.
After Rylie died, she reached out and reconnected via Facebook. She continued to reach out. Every so often, I get a card in the mail - yep, old school mail - and it makes me giddy like a kid at Christmas. Her beautiful handwriting adorns the envelope and I open an adorable card to find a heartfelt note inside. It usually reminds me that she’s thinking of me. It often references something one of us has posted and how crazy similar we are, even after all these years.
Every time I get one of her cards, I think, “Man, I should be better about this!” I add another expectation to my long list. I should send her a card. I should send cards like this to people that I don’t connect with often enough, but to whom I feel a deep connection. I hang the envelope up on my board as a reminder to do just that. Then guess what… I rarely, if ever do.
I have another friend that is gifted with the ability to make people feel special and remembered. She’s one of those people who sees something she know someone will like. She picks it up, stores it (and somehow doesn’t forget where), then wraps it up with a million other little reminders and presents them on a birthday, a special day, or just a Tuesday because that’s what she does.
In both of these situations, I wish I could do those things. I aspire to be thoughtful and intentional in the same ways. I set an expectation of myself to do the same things. Nearly every time, I fail to execute.
What I’m starting to realize is that maybe I’m setting the wrong expectations. It’s not that I can’t be thoughtful or intentional, but perhaps my thoughtfulness or intentionality should manifest differently. Or maybe I just should focus my energies elsewhere.
As a society, I think we have a habit of looking around at what others are doing and trying to be just like them, or better. What a boring world that would become! If everyone was good at sending out heartfelt notes in cute cards or building the perfect gift for others, then those moments wouldn’t be special. They wouldn’t stand out.
I don’t want to be part of diluting the world, I want to be part of enriching it. I’m realizing that instead of trying to be the best at sending out cards or creating the perfect gift, I can honor the talents of those around me. I can recognize the value they bring to my life.
Then I can lower the number of expectations that I have of myself. I can refocus my energy on a few areas that make me giddy with excitement, that play to my personality and strengths, but also challenge me to grow a bit. I can raise the bar on execution in those areas.
So rather than a list a zillion miles long, I hope to adjust my expectations lowering the number of competing priorities. I’ll have a few things that I really want to be accountable to and for and I will do them really well. For all the other things, I aim to recognize those that do them better than me. To validate their gifts and efforts, maybe even be inspired by them. I will also, recognize that in order to be the best version of myself, I don’t have to be the best version of everyone else.
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.