Dealing with the pressure of living up to other people’s expectations.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: In a lot of ways my life is really great right now. I just got engaged, I’ve finished my graduate degree, and I’m finally going to therapy to address my lifelong anxiety.
But I’m still struggling, and I’ve realized now that I’ve gotten my degree, I have no idea what I want to do next, outside of other people’s expectations. On top of that, my fiancé — who is in the mental-health field — thinks I might have undiagnosed ADHD, and preliminary reading matches up with the spaciness and absentmindedness and the general inability to focus on anything ever. (Somehow I managed to excel in my college classes without ever really doing the reading.)
I guess I just want some reassurance that this will pass, and things can get better. And some reassurance that my struggle is real, and that I’m not a weak pansy looking for an excuse for not living up to my potential.
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— Happy But …
DEAR HAPPY BUT …: Wait — since when is “living up to my potential” such an obligation that one needs an excuse not to?
You don’t owe it to anyone to use your life in any particular way. Sure, there are obligations we all assume when we live in society (obey laws, not be a nuisance) and when we form relationships with other people (don’t exploit others’ affection for us, make a good-faith effort to be the people we claimed to be, meet financial and child-rearing obligations) — but there’s a vast amount of flexibility within those boundaries.
If you went to grad school, for example, fully believing it was the right move for you, but you have since come to see that you were living out other people’s vision for your life — or if you just realized, oops, it’s the wrong field for you — then it would not be acting in bad faith to follow a different path.
Whether “this will pass,” who knows. Probably. Most things do — and then “that” will kick in.
So tend to your health, and breathe, and take the time you need to sort yourself out. The idea that life is linear is one that can’t die soon enough. Age is linear, but the rest seems to work better if we embrace it as loopy. Both senses intended.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have two best friends. They can happily hang out in a group but aren’t close friends themselves.
Well, Friend X got married and that night Friend Y slept with X’s younger brother. I know because Y told me. I also know it would really upset X, and she has asked me if I know anything, as she has her suspicions.
I feel like being a best friend requires loyalty and honesty. I want to keep Y’s secret, but I don’t want to lie or keep secrets from X. I can’t see a way to stay out of it. Help?!
— Stuck in the Middle
DEAR STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: Best friendship also requires knowing when something isn’t your business.
X: “Do you know anything?”
You: “I know this isn’t my business.”
If X presses you, then you hang on. “Seriously — you’re talking to me when you need to talk to your brother or Y.”
If X’s brother becomes Y’s ex, I quit.