Keep your hopes high but your expectations low… Except we’re human and that’s probably not going to happen, nor should it. The problem is when we start internalizing and letting our expectations lower because we’re not quite where we expected to be in life. From the movies we grew up watching, to the hyper-connectivity of social media and the general warranted hopes of the future— how can anyone not assume that their high school or university experience will be the same? The feeling that comes with underwhelming experiences is one that I believe we don’t discuss or acknowledge enough as a society.
I noticed this when I first started university. I had big expectations going in, as I’m sure most of us do. I was going to ace all my classes, go to every class, participate in every event, make loads of new friends and meet someone great. All of these big goals and hopes I had for myself, I did meet— to an extent, but not in ways I expected and definitely not right away. The truth is, it’s actually hard to achieve all you want when there are so many real-world factors that movies conveniently leave out. You need to be especially extroverted to make new friends, have prior connections to secure job placements, be financially stable to go out partying and go experience the city life with people. And that’s just some scenarios, often these overlap with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic played a massive role in limiting meaningful experiences, connections and opportunities for many of us who are just coming of age.
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that the expectations we place for our late teens and early 20s – this idea of turning sixteen and being catapulted into the best, most stable and successful version of ourselves. In reality most people truly find themselves feeling stable in their late 20s and 30s. Most movies, books and TV shows focus on this age bracket and very rarely do we see any movies surrounding finding love, happiness, success or a fulfilling career later on in life. It’s a small thing to note and yet, once you realize it, you see it in at least one of your top three favourite movies and TV shows. So, the effect of this is, we are forced to make big life decisions based on stability and often end up settling in more ways than one.
When it comes to relationships, people are more willing to remain in unfulfilling, unequal relationships for the sake of familiarity, maybe fear, and most likely the belief that by a certain age you should be settled down and have found “the one”. In our education and careers, you see people suppressing their passions and giving up their dreams in favour of more stable or secure jobs that may not be where their interests lie. Believing that things need to be done in a strict timeline has been a generational problem. It’s instilled in us from our parents, their parents before them, cultural influence and academic deadlines. In addition, there has been this expedited rise in social media that everyone should own a degree, a car, a house, all these material possessions (albeit very important, and huge accomplishments) by a certain age, and especially the sooner the better.
I think not enough people choose to discuss their struggles when it comes to ordinary things. For example, I had a friend who was in a healthy long term relationship who, beforehand, had never truly experienced one. At one point she told me that she was sure she loved her significant other but she was confused as to why things felt a bit stagnant. We then, in an attempt to ease her mind, discussed that it was simply a result of not being used to the rollercoaster ride that toxic connections consistently deliver. Additionally, we noted that our favorite rom coms never show a relationship develop after the initial thrill of the chase. One of the biggest takeaways is, your timing is your own, it takes a little effort and consistency but everything you see in movies, the big goals you’ve set for yourself, you will achieve.
I’m a big advocate for reaching for the stars and beyond. Movies are sometimes unrealistic. But everything they show is possible for you, maybe not in the designated time frame you or society sets for yourself— but they are achievable. If you mess up, if you struggle though, reach out to people you can trust but also trust yourself to learn self-soothing. Did you fail? Or is this an opportunity to learn from or to grow from? Reframe questions to evolve from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset because the journey is long and you owe it to yourself to keep going.