Before I was a writer and coach, I was a stage actor, a prop maker, a textile artist, a wearable tech designer, a puppeteer, a yoga teacher, a Thai massage practitioner, an artist’s assistant, a stripper, a marketer, a beekeeper, a seamstress, a costume designer, a sailor, a stewardess, and a divemaster. As long as something was interesting to me and allowed me to pay my bills, I would pursue it.
I cared very little for social expectations and only chose to give my all to writing and coaching when they proved they could hold the multitudes of everything else I’d done. In that way, I have a career. More importantly, I have figured out what matters to me and have found mediums that allow me to do that work.
At the same time, I am not immune to the omnipresent messages on- and offline that reinforce social expectations in overt and subtle ways. Expectations about the work I’m meant to be doing and the life I’m meant to be living. Expectations about my body and my bank account; about my relationships to other people and to myself.
Not only can these messages be overwhelming, they can be extremely distracting. So often solutions to our suffering are presented to us as fully formed answers and not as questions meant to reveal the truths that are already within us. In moments of being unsure of what comes next, meeting social expectations can become a tempting temporary fix that has the potential to derail us from creating the art our world so desperately needs.
Which is not to say that social expectations are unanimously wrong or misguided. Just that a lot of them—being largely heteronormative, racist, ableist, capitalist, and patriarchal—are limited in their ability to provide us with the perspectives and narratives we need to live fulfilling lives. This is especially true if your identity is not one that permits you easy access to wealth and privilege.
Recently I’ve been trying to parse apart what stories about my creative work and money are mine by choice and which were given to me by society at large. Despite having no clear way of addressing that topic—as is often the way with creative work—I am sure that the practices and insights I am seeking exist outside the limits of social expectations.
Maybe you feel the same way. If so, I’d love to know, what matters to you that’s different from social expectations?