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How can I live up to my parents' expectations?

heart to heart
I'm 29, married, with a two-year-old baby girl. I am the only child of two accomplished academics, and all my life I have lived in the shadow of their expectations. My father told me that I should top their achievements and become even more successful than they have been.

When it comes to accomplishments, however, I've been a disappointment so far. I graduated with honors from college, but instead of going off on a high-powered career, I landed a low-key job as a government clerk. I got pregnant out of wedlock and married a man my parents disapproved of. I wanted to give my dreams of becoming a novelist a chance but until now, despite having several unfinished novels in my computer, I have yet to produce a single manuscript. I'm half-broke most of the time, and have had to rely on my parents for help.

I love my parents, and it hurts to see the disappointment in their eyes. All my life people have told me about my potential, but I have done nothing, accomplished nothing, that would bring that potential to fruition. I have dreams but I can't seem to finish anything worthwhile or take the next step forward. I've consistently performed beneath expectations, and it's eating at my self-esteem. What steps can I take to gather my courage, get off my lazy, underachieving bum and finally make something of myself?

Wallace's reply
Wallace If someone asked you to jump in the high jump and they set the bar at 10 feet would you attempt it? On the other hand if you determined the height of the bar yourself and set it at 2 feet would you attempt that jump? Your parents are like a high jump instructor who keeps on setting the bar way out of reach while at the same time expecting you to jump over it. It's a bit crazy isn't it - so why do you choose to meet these expectations?

In any healthy parent/child relationship there are no expectations. Love is given freely and abundantly from the parent to the child because the child is loved for what they are. This is unconditional love. In your case love is only fully given if you meet your parents' requirements - in other words the love is conditional on achieving certain expectations. This is conditional love and is misguided.

My advice to you is to take control of your life and stop trying to meet your parents' expectations. Decide what jumps you are going to make, what height the bar is going to be set and who is going to jump with you. Determine also to be your own cheerleader and if you clear the bar at the height you've set, cheer and congratulate yourself. Become independent of others and their opinions. You may still choose to listen to their opinion if they offer one but decide things for yourself. This is self reliance. There was a time when, as a young child, you needed your parents' approval - you are now a 29 year old mother and that time has passed. You need to have confidence in yourself as a mature and responsible woman.

I would like to add that there are many ways of looking at success - is having and raising a child not a success, is working as a clerk not a success? People who have high level academic qualifications sometimes assume that this is the only true measure of success - this sad illusion has penetrated our educational institutions, and the job market, warping the tender hearts and idealizm of our young people.

When you sit down again, as I trust you will, to complete one of your novels, remember as you do this, that there is a greater story for you to write than the story unfolding on the pages in front of you - that story is the story of your own life. Create that story with confidence!

If you want help in discovering and having confidence in yourself, I recommend my book Unfold Your Wings and Watch Life Take Off.

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