Since I can remember, my endeavours be they hobbies, pursuits, education, sports and other activities have been held to a very standard by no-one but myself. Having raced through my GCSEs being a 'gifted and talented' child, acing exams, competing in athletics events and engaging in all manner of academic and artistic extracurricular activities the standards set for me by other peoples belief in me have gone on to dramatically impact life. I was told from all corners how far I could go and what great things I could expect to being doing. Cambridge or Oxford were on the horizon and from there, the beginnings of a career in science continuing the level of success others had seen in me as a child. I would go on to continually challenge my own standards and perpetually improve my fast-paced, action packed and optimally scheduled life to achieve as much as possible in the time I had been given. Or so I thought.
What my schooling, especially the teachers who so keenly believed in me, failed to instil in me is that plenty of children did what I was doing and far more. For sure, I was doing well and relative to my cohort I was one of the few achieving top marks and accolades but in reality there are millions like me. The lack of this knowledge certainly inflated my ego as the thirteen year old I was but that faded pretty quickly. What it really left me with was a constant underlying dissatisfaction with everything that I do. My judgments about my life are all measured against what I think I should be achieving, not really about being better than others.
Moving to what was at the time the most successful non-private sixth form college in the country blew me away. From being top of the table in most things I did this was a new world and I was a distinctly average fish, with very average grades and with very mediocre achievements in my extra-academic pursuits. Surrounded but violin virtuosos, superb athletes, orchestral composers, academic forces of nature and down right geniuses, this was the blow that I needed to knock back the expectations I set for myself into some sort of realistic realm. I revised and worked harder than ever before to scrape a collection of A's and B's in my three A-levels whilst others partied, got drunk, did half an hours revision before the exam seemingly without a care in the world and sauntered out with 5 A*'s set for Oxbridge and glittering career. I realised that actually, I'm not that clever, not even close. Some people sit on another plane of ability that the rest of us simply cannot hope to share with them. Some of these people became good friends of mine but I still harboured a modicum of jealous confusion deeply concealed within the folds of my pride and facade of cool exterior.
Whilst the obnoxious self portrait that I and others through years of praise and promise had painted crumbled in the face of reality, my expectations of my own lifestyle and achievements only heightened to the level that my peers were operating on, something wholly unachievable. Despite having graduated from a top Russel Group University in a challenging degree and started a job everybody says I should be proud of, in some ways I am uninterested in what my life has become. I don't see anything of note in my achievements or undertakings. All I see are missed opportunities to better myself. An A is a failure to get an A*, which is of course nothing unless it is full marks, 100%...
Now academia is behind me, these infeasible standards remain in my home and work life. Work isn't challenging enough and then when it gets harder all I see is the stress I'm exhibiting and my inability to capably and calmly deal with the situation at hand. At home, unless I am filling my time instead of watching TV or doing very little then I see that as time wasted. Because of this, I write reams of to-do lists for this, that and the other, planning productivity to within an inch of my life. As usual, it will be a vastly unachievable goal, I won't scratch the surface of my intentions and my failure will only make the time I take to relax feel more like a failure and depress me even further.
As if this toxic and failing self-improvement program my life has become wasn't damaging enough, this unassailable attitude plagues parts of my releationship with my fiancé. The picture attached is something that formed part of the celebrations I had planned for her birthday. Many of the thoughts surrounding the plans for this day centred on it being unexciting, easy, simple, boring. There's no challenge in going for pizza, its not stimulating, new or daring so whats the point? Of course this is my fiancé and she isn't thinking like this, because she's not an idiot, and she had lovely day. For my birthday she took me away (below) for a wonderful weekend in south west Wales, paddling in the freezing shore water and walking far and wide. She showed me how well she knows what I love to do, how she knows I need to be outside, and it reminded me that I planned what I did for her because she would like it, and it need not be judged against my own damaging standards.
An exceptional man and father of one of my good friends will tell you in situations to "Manage your expectations" and I think this applies to everything you need it to.
Managing your expectations in any given situation can almost always make the outcome more positive in some way. Expecting myself to have achieved vastly more than I am capable of every week will clearly lead to disappointment. By setting myself what before I would have seen as pathetic goals organised only by someone who has no belief in their own ability, I am actually achieving things. Sure they aren't big things and I can't honestly say I am proud as they I things I feel I should be doing, but at least I am doing them which is more than I can say about the last 6 months.
Perhaps I will learn to appreciate this new way of working soon, but for now it is enough just to have allowed myself to plan such a relatively week of activities.
Without my Fiancé, none of this would have been possible. So thanks, B, and I love you.