TRANSCRIPTION: Hi there, I’m Justin Lioi from Park Slope Therapist and I want to talk today about other people’s expectations that seem to become part of who we are and how we can change that. Especially when they’re actually making us pretty miserable.
I was in Prospect Park the other day and there were some construction guys working on the pavilion near the skating rink. It’s not something I would usually notice except that I heard the familiar voice of Idina Menzel singing ‘Let it Go’ as it was the music that was playing. That was startling enough but then I saw one of the workers, tool belt, sweaty, had his mask on, and with his arms outstretched belting the chorus along with the music. None of the other workers even looked up. It was great!
It made me think about how awesome it would have been if I could have let go of masculine stereotypes that I had taken in from a young age.
Why Should I Live Up to Other People’s Expectations?
Letting go was so difficult because first, it takes self-knowledge to know that I wanted something else and then there was the risk of shame or the consequences of losing what I did have—respect, support, even relationships with family.
I grew up in a pretty stereotypically gendered community and there were several activities I was just expected to do and I wasn’t given much choice: I enrolled in soccer, baseball, and basketball. I took golf lessons. I was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. It wasn’t that I was against any of these to begin with, but there weren’t any other choices offered. It seemed to be it was what you did if you were a boy in Yonkers, at least in my family. Slowly, my identity seemed to be about how good I was at these things. And all these things came from other people’s expectations of me.
Golfing was an interesting thing here. The men in my family golfed. The first—and I think only—all male vacation I went on was with my dad, uncle and cousin to Florida to go golfing. I wasn’t very good. My problem was that I would aim straight, but the ball always went to the right. I sliced. Another of my uncles was determined to help me with this and one day he took me to the driving range. Uncle George was the uncle that fished and hunted, he did woodworking, he made a huge treehouse in his backyard. He was the uncle you called when you had a loose tooth because he’s the only one we trusted to tie a string around it and pull.
At the driving range we tried all kinds of things, Gripped the club higher, lower, moved my stance this way, that way. Nothing seemed to help. Uncle George—an extremely patient man that I did not want to let down—and he did not give up. And I certainly wasn’t going to. And in my exasperated attempt to “get it right” I took “loosen” up on your grip too literally and the golf club sailed onto the green. I looked at Uncle George with fear about what I’d done and his first response was to note how the club went incredibly straight.
This wasn’t the first time Uncle George’s patience had been tried with me. Years before he had taken me fishing and while waiting and waiting for a bite that finally came, my response was not to reel it in right away, but somehow, I managed to let go of the pole and flew into the water.
We somehow had recovered the fishing pole years before, and we were able to get back the golf club. Neither time did Uncle George look angry.
But Uncle George had also given me his prized pocket knife. This was something to use in Boy Scouts and to take on camping trips. Trips that I spent crying in my tent at night because, to this day, I do not think humans were meant to sleep in places without security systems and working bathrooms.
I had the knife on me when I spent three hours setting up that tent, I had it on me when I was carving the stick for my s’mores that night, I had it on me when I went to sleep just in case a bear, raccoon, or I don’t know a bird tried to attack me.
But I did not have it when I got back home.
I remember the fear of disappointing Uncle George when I had to tell him I lost the knife. The only thing more difficult was also telling him that I didn’t want to be in the boy scouts anymore, or golf, or baseball, basketball, or soccer. That I just had other interests. And, true to form, there was no tremendous consequence to this. No withholding of support, or anything else. Uncle George was with the rest of the family at the plays I did and my senior recital when I graduated college—laughing the loudest. So maybe it was my unconscious trying to give me a message when I let go of the fishing pole, the golf club, and the pocket knife.
Stop Living for Other People
Letting go of other people’s expectations for me was difficult, and it’s something for us all to keep in mind when we think about what subtle or not so subtle expectations we place on our kids.
But my work is with adult men and so much of it is examining what we haven’t yet let go of. Often, it’s just a matter of realizing that we are allowed to. That we have choices. A lot of therapy is looking at patterns that emerge again and again. It’s helping people realize that we don’t have to do it the way we thought. Other people may not like it when we choose differently. But I hope you get a similar response to what I got years ago.
Ready to learn to let go of other people’s expectations? Send me an email and we can find a time for a free 15/20 minute consultation to talk about how we can start working on this.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.