At one point I lived my life according to my own rules, following my own path. No, not a path;
a stream, of water or of air; turbulent, in motion, following no standard formula of progress,
but just going. And somewhere along the way I fell from that stream and stepped onto an established,
well-worn path, paved with the desires and expectations of countless other women. This path,
call it achievement or perfection, grounded and comforted me, as it gave me clearly defined
boundaries and rules at a time in my life when I was too exhausted to formulate them for myself.
The expectations I held myself to were not purely goal-oriented or achievement-based. At some
point I internalized the personal characteristics that I felt I needed in order to be “good” or “functional” or “equal.” Not
knowing what to say to a friend who called with a problem left me feeling useless and unsupportive;
crying at work (or ever) became a mark of weakness. My creative, expressive, emotional self
that had been “me” for 20+ years was no longer visible, but I didn’t notice
its absence. I saw myself as progressing, maturing, oblivious to the fact that I was actually
restricting and deluding. As my professional and academic achievements grew, as I racked up
promotions and 4.0s and praise from others, the personal expectations I held myself to tightened,
squeezing up and out, forming blinders that limited my vision further. Life became narrower,
and I could no longer breathe. I was having a crisis of faith in myself.
Where did my new expectations of myself come from? Was it in trying to understand my father,
who lived his entire life comfortably confined within the structures of the military, the church,
the family patriarchy? Or was it frombeing exposed to too many televised superwomen: vampire
slayers and CIA double agents and teenage super sleuths, women who seamlessly blended strength
and power and finesse, kicking life’s ass with their fashionable Blahniks?
Coming to Smith was like holding a magnifying glass to the situation. Living at school, I
witnessed first hand the students whose expectations of themselves created mile-high blinders
limiting their vision only to their idealized path of success, and I started to realize how
much life they weren’t aware of, weren’t open to, and how precious those experiences
had been in my own life. Looking at what was around me allowed me to look inward, allowed me
to see that I had been holding myself to just as many unrealistic and unhealthy expectations.
I’m still working on keeping this perspective in check, and not allowing myself to feel
controlled by grades or in competition with friends who are “doing it all.” I try
to remember that the only expectation I want to have of myself is to keep myself grounded in
my own definitions of success, and I can make these definitions wearing flip flops if I want.