Have you ever felt like you’re living someone else’s life instead of your own? Like you’re running on a treadmill of expectations that just keeps speeding up, leaving you breathless and lost?
I know I have. It took me years to realize that much of my unhappiness stemmed from trying to meet everyone else’s expectations — family, friends, society — you name it.
If you’re feeling weighed down and unsure of yourself, it might be time to pause and consider if you’re carrying the weight of other people’s desires on your shoulders.
Here are 7 signs that might indicate you are.
1) You feel drained
Feeling drained is more than just being tired from a long day at work; it’s a profound sense of emotional and mental exhaustion that seeps into your soul.
And sometimes the subtle weight of expectations is what gradually wears you down.
It could be a job you took because someone said it was a “smart career move,” or a hobby you gave up because it wasn’t “grown-up” enough.
These might seem like small choices, but over time, they can take a toll on your emotional energy, leaving you feeling depleted.
I remember some days when I would wake up without a single ounce of enthusiasm for what lay ahead. That’s when I realized, I had committed to things that weren’t really my priorities — they were somebody else’s.
Imagine how much energy you could regain by simply giving yourself permission to want what you actually want. It’s not selfish; it’s self-awareness.
And it could be the first step in a journey toward a life that leaves you feeling fulfilled instead of fatigued.
2) You’re anxious about making decisions
Decision-making should be a reflection of your own values and beliefs, but what happens when you feel immense pressure to choose based on the expectations of others? The anxiety can be overwhelming.
I recall a time during local elections when the tension was palpable. Most of my social circle, including my family, were staunch supporters of one candidate.
But after doing my own research and soul-searching, I found myself leaning towards someone else.
The days leading up to the election were filled with stress. My mind kept racing with questions like, “How will I explain my choice to my family?” and “What will people think of me?”
The weight of those expectations made a normally straightforward task — an act of civic duty — feel like a minefield.
But here’s what that experience taught me: making a decision based on someone else’s expectations might bring temporary relief, but it comes at the cost of your own peace of mind.
The moment you cast a vote — or make any decision — that aligns with who you truly are, a sense of freedom takes over, overshadowing the fear of judgment or backlash.
3) You can’t say “no”
How often do you find yourself saying “no” to people? If it’s almost never, chances are you’ve been agreeing to things even if you wish you could decline — and adding more weight to an already heavy load of obligations.
I used to be a chronic yes-person myself, always worried that saying “no” would make me appear selfish, difficult, or unlikable.
When a friend asked me to help plan a party on a weekend I had earmarked for self-care, I hesitated but eventually said yes. The entire time, I felt stressed and resentful, not exactly the emotions one wants to bring to a celebration.
What I eventually realized is that saying “no” is not just okay; it’s crucial for mental well-being. Every “no” to someone else is a “yes” to yourself.
It’s an affirmation that you value your own time, needs, and emotional space.
And contrary to what I feared, setting boundaries didn’t make people like me less; it actually increased the respect they had for me.
If saying “no” is tough for you, remember this: you’re making a choice about how to spend your limited time and emotional energy. Make that choice wisely, with yourself in mind.
4) You compare yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others is another telltale sign that you’re shouldering the expectations of people around you.
It’s like you’re racing in a marathon, constantly checking over your shoulder to see if you’re keeping up with everyone else.
I know the feeling well. A few years ago, a close friend landed a dream job, and while I wanted to be purely happy for her, a part of me also felt inferior and rushed to catch up.
But here’s the thing: life isn’t a race, and the only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday. What matters most are your goals, your progress, and your happiness.
When you stop comparing, you start living. Instead of focusing on what others are doing or achieving, you turn inward and prioritize what truly resonates with you.
By focusing on your own journey, you’ll find that the weight of others’ expectations will start to lift, and in its place, you’ll find a renewed sense of freedom and self-worth.
5) You avoid taking risks
Let’s face it, taking risks can be scary. But what’s even scarier is letting the opinions of others dictate your life choices.
I remember when I was much younger and I wanted to take a solo trip abroad. The idea thrilled me, but I also heard the voices of family and friends cautioning me about the “what-ifs.” So, I shelved the plan.
The result? I may have avoided some risks, but I also missed out on what could have been a life-changing experience, something that was authentically ‘me.’
Life is too short to let fear dictate your choices. When you dodge risks because you’re concerned about judgments or disappointments, you’re not just playing it safe; you’re playing small.
Stepping out of your comfort zone may be scary, but it’s often where the magic happens. So go ahead, take that leap of faith.
You might just find that the only expectations worth living up to are the ones you set for yourself.
6) You seek validation
Are you constantly checking for likes, comments, or nods of approval? It’s completely natural to want validation; it makes us feel connected and valued.
But there’s a fine line between healthy social interaction and constant need for external approval.
I used to compulsively check social media after posting anything, anxious to see how many likes and comments I’d get. And sadly, the number on the screen had a big influence on my mood.
The moment of clarity came when I realized that this ‘digital applause’ wasn’t fulfilling; it was only a momentary boost. What truly mattered was how I myself felt about my choices, my work, and my life.
Seeking validation isn’t inherently bad, but it becomes problematic when it’s your only source of self-worth. What if you could give yourself the validation you crave?
When you make choices that align with who you are, you won’t need to look outside for a seal of approval.
7) You feel guilty for pursuing your own interests
Guilt can be one of the heaviest burdens, especially when it comes to pursuing your own interests.
I remember when I first took up painting as a hobby; I felt guilty spending time on it.
Why? Because it wasn’t “productive” or “practical” according to the people around me.
What I didn’t realize was that I was doing myself a disservice by sidelining my passion. I was giving up a piece of myself to meet someone else’s standard of what was important.
Here’s the truth: There’s no guilt in embracing what makes you happy. Your interests and passions are a vital part of who you are.
Engaging in activities that light you up is not just ‘okay,’ it’s essential for your well-being.
So go ahead, dive into that hobby, explore that interest, and relish the freedom that comes from being unapologetically you.
Embrace your authentic self
If you’ve recognized yourself in any of these 7 signs, you’re not alone. Many of us fall into the trap of living for other people’s expectations rather than our own desires and needs.
But remember, life is too short to be anything but your authentic self.
It’s easy to think that meeting other people’s expectations will make us happy or earn us respect. The irony is, the more we sacrifice our true selves to meet those expectations, the more we end up feeling lost, drained, and unfulfilled.
Start small. Whether it’s saying “no” more often, or allowing yourself to explore a passion without guilt, every step you take towards authenticity is a victory.
You won’t just find happiness and fulfillment; you’ll inspire those around you to start their own journey towards living a life that’s true to them.
Remember, your purpose isn’t to live up to someone else’s expectations; it’s to live up to your own. And in doing that, you’ll find a life that is richer, more fulfilling, and above all else, authentically yours.