I believe our sense of meaning, value, and satisfaction with our daily lives rests on one of two ideas: either we are doing too little or we are doing too much with our days.
If I had to guess what the case for you is, I would guess the latter is true. Such is the nature of our society. We take pride in our busyness. We blindly say yes to what our friends, family, and co-workers tell us to do without giving much consideration to our anxiety level. We pile the plate high because we don’t want to suffer from the feeling of doing too little.
Yet there’s a problem in this: we’re crushing our souls in the process.
I once knew a woman who calculated she had a solid twelve to fifteen hours in her day for work. I admired her selflessness as I watched her devote every single hour to the pursuit of money. It was a noble endeavor, something she was doing to take care of her one grandchild.
But then I had watched the process take a horrible turn.
The grandchild was young. I would sit on the porch with him on a hot and sticky summer afternoon, and he would tell me about his anxiety over not having enough money. It crushed me. The anxiety the grandmother felt in her pursuit of money carried over to the child. He was conditioned to be anxious about things he shouldn’t be anxious about.
Here’s what I drew from this experience: we aren’t meant to be busy all the time.
We weren’t created for that. We might feel fine in doing it, but in our busyness we can be blind to unintended consequences sprouting up around us.
Yet, what was the grandmother’s true problem? She expected too much from herself.
We do this too. It’s our expectation that’s hurting us.
The Problem is Our Expectation
Our anxiety and our load of busyness rests on what we expect from ourselves. If we expect we can do many things, we’ll fill our lives up and watch it develop stretch marks from the strain. If we expect we can do nothing, our life will amount to nothing.
There is a relationship between our anxiety and our expectation. Expecting more from ourselves doesn’t mean we’ll be happier with ourselves.
Expecting the absolute most from ourselves is not the stuff of a meaningful life. A meaningful life is balanced, not overstuffed or underutilized.
What Jesus Told Us to Expect
Jesus confronts our expectation in a subtle manner.
In the Gospels, there are several occasions where Jesus performs a miracle and then directly afterwards challenges the disciples to do something crazy. For instance, in Matthew 14, Jesus feeds the five thousand and then immediately afterwards challenges Peter to walk on water. At the end of the Gospels, Jesus dies and is raised to life, and then challenges the disciples to preach the good news to the entire world.
You see what’s happening here?
Jesus teaches the disciples to expect more from Him, and then pushes them to do great things. As the disciples’ faith in Jesus increased, so did their capability.
Jesus never told us to expect more from others. He never told us to expect more from ourselves either. But He did teach us to expect more from Him.
And it is in our expectation in Him that we gain the capability to do the right things in life.
But too often, we only increase faith in ourselves.
We live in a culture of self-esteem and motivation, where we are told countless times to simply believe in ourselves to do anything.
There’s a shred of truth in these statements. We have to believe in our ability in order to do hard work. But if there’s anything we learn from the grandmother’s story, it’s that believing too much in ourselves can lead down a road of anxiety and struggle.
If we continue to challenge ourselves only out of greater belief in ourselves, we’ll instead ache with anxiety and disappointment.
Part of the solution then is to expect less from ourselves and expect more from God.
But that statement is easy to say and hard to practice. The real challenge comes in the execution of that truth, not in the understanding of it.
To help you, here are practical actions you can incorporate now to relieve the burden of expectation off yourself and restore balance to your hectic daily life:
1. Limit your projects.
I often try juggling three large projects at the same time and quickly grow stressed from it. I’ll be writing a book while planning a party and working with a large client.
But no one ever told me to juggle these projects. In fact, when I juggle projects, I do a bad job at giving each project the full attention it needs.
We can easily limit what we do. I can only choose to do one project a month, or even just 3 to 4 large projects in a year. I can say no to everything else and be perfectly fine.
Here’s the challenge: don’t try to do it all. Try to place boundaries around what you will do. Anything else can wait for another time.
2. Avoid the hustle.
Many entrepreneurs, such as myself, break themselves over this idea of “hustling”, meaning that they get a lot of work done. But I don’t like the hustle. Hustling assumes that you’re burning the late night hours, spending time away from your family, and developing unhealthy lifestyle centered on work.
Hustling assumes you can do it all and have it all. But as we’ve discussed, this is placing too much expectation on ourselves.
When life places pressure on you to hustle, set a clear definition for how long you’ll work hard. Don’t make a habit of it. Otherwise, you’ll make a habit of expecting too much from yourself.
3. Adopt a healthy understanding of selflessness.
Many people busy their schedules to the point it harms them because they believe that in order to serve people, they must be busy.
But selflessness isn’t pure self-ignorance. Selflessness flows from the right amount of self-care.
It’s not selfish to limit your projects and avoid the hustle, not if the reason you’re committing these actions is to care for your soul. Not expecting too much from yourself frees you up to give your best contribution. That doesn’t sound selfish to me.
4. Practice having enough.
Our culture might tell us to do more and accumulate more, but this often does nothing but leave our lives crowded. Instead, the Gospels illustrate the idea of being content with “enough” (refer to Luke 3:10-14 for an example). When you are tempted to be more, do more, and gather more, tell yourself that you have “enough”. This understanding will add balance to your life.
5. Know yourself.
I now know I’m an introvert. But when I worked in a church and when I was a student at a large undergrad, I did not know this. What I knew was that the extrovert ideal was praised in society. So I became the extrovert. As a result, I wore myself out.
Too often we trade what we know about ourselves for what society tells us is right. We exhaust ourselves by doing things that aren’t within our gifting or personality.
The tighter hold we can have on who we are, the better we can manage our lives—accepting only the things that give us life.
Our souls are in danger, but part of this problem is that we place our expectation in the wrong things. To counter what society is saying, expect less from yourself. Do your soul a favor, and expect more from God.