Topic Tuesday: Expectations

Katie Bunge“On Being Good” (By: Katie Bunge)

Let’s talk about expectations. Society is more advanced than it has ever been. Scientifically and technologically we know more today than any generation before us. We literally have the world at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, iPads, laptops, and so on and so on. We’re bombarded with the message that “we can have it all.” Here are some of the expectations and messages I have confronted, and some that I am currently confronting:

Go to school and excel. Be fit and look good, all the time. You must get a college degree. Follow your passions, and if you don’t know what your passions are, you better figure it out ASAP. Get a masters degree or higher so you really stand out. Be fit and look good, all the time. Learn to be self-sufficient, just in case you don’t find a life partner. Find a life partner. Get married. Have the best wedding ever. Get a job, but make sure it’s one that you’re passionate about. Don’t waste time doing something you don’t love. Pay your bills and check your credit score. Have children, but don’t wait too long to have them. Be fit and look good, all the time. Spend time with your children when you have them. Take time to travel. Pay your student loans off somehow. You don’t have to have children if you don’t want them. Make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Volunteer somewhere. You need a good work life balance. Find true love. You need to pay your dues. Whatever you do, don’t settle. Be fit and look good, all the time.

Good grief, I am exhausted. Ever heard or thought any of these? It only took me about five minutes to come up with this list, so just imagine how many more I have stored up over the years. I’m almost 29 years old just for a reference point. I’ve been in what I would consider “recovery” from my eating disorder behaviors for almost 4 years now. I’ll go ahead and tell you (because I always wonder when I read these) that my eating disorder was comprised of a combination of restriction, bulimia, and obsessive exercise. I believe the technical diagnosis was EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified.

Our societal quest for advancement is unprecedented. The expectations that have been placed on us, particularly women, have become similarly more complex. The issue here is that we’ve learned to equate the measure of our self-worth with our ability to succeed in the demands placed upon us. To make this matter worse, we are bombarded daily with carefully crafted social media displays that trick us into believing that everyone else is flourishing when we feel like failures. I recently read the book “Wild and Free” by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan. In this book, Haley and Jess discuss the idea that women today are left feeling they are “too much and never enough” all at the same time. If the standard is that we should become masters of everything and look perfect while doing so, we’re simply bound to fail.

In the face of all of this pressure, are we really surprised eating disorders exist?  My eating disorder was my flailing attempt to maintain some semblance of control over the chaos of the pressures that I felt weighing me down everyday. It was a direct reaction to a constant state of feeling overwhelmed and out of control because of my perceived inability to measure-up. While I’ve managed to reframe my perception of my body and learned how to care for myself, I still wake-up feeling this immense pressure in other realms of my life.

I’ve come up with what I think are a few good ideas to get us started at working towards a solution to this problem—

First, I think we need to start acknowledging the fact that we can’t have it all, and we truly don’t really want it all. Most of us just want to be happy by our own definition. Second, I think we have to learn to trust our own instincts so we can be our true selves. Learning to trust myself by slowly and incrementally testing the waters was one of the main reasons I got to the other side of my eating disorder. Third, we have to learn to give grace and receive grace. Everyone and every body is worthy of love regardless of our human tendency to make mistakes at times. Most people that I know who have battled disordered eating issues are beautiful people who are far kinder to others than they are to themselves. It’s time to do unto to yourself, as you do unto others.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. My only hope for this post is that it opens up a dialogue around this issue and gets you really thinking about what is important to you, isolated from what you feel is expected of you. I also want to share with you a poem by Mary Oliver that always makes me feel a little better than I did before I read it on any given day.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

About the Author

Katie Bunge is a girl who has yet to define the role she’s meant to fill in this complex world. In the midst of this never ending quest, she has managed to pick up a few titles—wife, dog-mom, aunt, daughter, sister, friend, attorney, writer, reflector, artist, impromptu counselor, reader, runner etc. As an INFJ on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, she’s likely to be found in a corner at a party asking someone about their childhood or their dreams. She loves running on a cool fall day, dogs, Mary Oliver poems, cooking for her husband, and Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. After 10 years of moving around the country for schooling and work, this Florence, AL native is grateful to be settling closer to family in Nashville.