Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By An Phương
When I was a kid, I always strived to score a 10 on every subject and when growing older, I tried to secure a house before reaching 30. There’s nothing wrong with setting specific goals in life but I’ve come to realise that, at the age of 27, these targets might have put unnecessary pressure on many of us whose lives are already quite stressful.
Pressure from societal expectations has been a topic among my friends for days, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
“The pandemic has turned my life upside down since I’m working in the hospitality industry. Being on the list of employees with the best performance for years, it is a lot of pressure looking at colleagues that are still able to thrive in this unfortunate period,” my friend Duy Nguyễn, 28, said.
Duy told me that societal expectations come in different forms for different age groups. It is when we become older that we’re able to look at the bigger picture of how expectations evolve and can be detrimental to our quality of life.
"I used to spend 15 hours a day preparing for the national university entrance exam in an effort to get into a medical school that my parents deemed to be cool and always wanted me to attend,” said Ngọc Trương, a friend of mine and Duy's.
“It was so stressful at that time trying to achieve something that was not exactly my intention. As unpredictable as life can be, I’m currently running a business that has very little to do with what I learned in medical university,” Ngọc said.
I understand Duy and Ngọc as I suffer from the constant stress of trying to reach the target often set by the society that we live in as well. I believe it has mostly been the need to be recognised that drives me crazy.
I feel more 'secure' if my parents pat me on the shoulder every time I score a 10 for a subject. I feel “better” than my colleagues when I reach the company’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) before all of them do. I feel 'proud' every time my personal trainer tells me that my tummy is getting smaller or my hips are bigger.
There’s nothing wrong with it but I also feel overwhelmed to always maintain the performance that I have given sweat, tears and even blood, to make this far. I feel tired, to be exact, chasing some kind of state of perfection that does not necessarily define happiness.
“I agree with you,” Ngọc said.
“How society typically defines success via big numbers, positions and titles in life might take unnecessary toll on young individuals. With societal expectations being such a big part of our lives, our minds become programmed to meet these goals, hoping to check each off as if we were shopping for the perfect way to behave and the perfect life,” she said.
“Sometimes, I felt as if I was locked in a stiff wall, where difference is discouraged and may even be frowned upon," she added.
Duy joined in: “That being said, I do appreciate some expectations as they encourage me to try harder, challenge myself and unlock the inner power that I wouldn’t know I had if I had no pressure. However, I believe one should know his or her strengths and weaknesses, set reachable goals, and learn to appreciate their efforts,”
I’m not sure if it’s just me but by the time I reach some certain goals, I immediately set the bar higher and don’t let myself have time to rest and reflect on my achievement.
Even though I find that 'keep going' is necessary to thrive in life, how far should I go in order to feel that I’m perfect enough?
“Big numbers don’t necessarily bring me happiness, but rather it’s just a temporary sense of 'enough'. I tend to be very disappointed every time I’m not able to reach my ever-rising standards and remember that feeling longer than other emotions. It’s quite toxic, I must say,” Ngọc said.
Duy, Ngọc and I all agreed that as we become more experienced in life, we actually want it to be simpler. Although it’s fair for one to reach the vision of perfectionism, from now on, we have decided to only do so if it brings us real happiness.
“I don’t usually have dinner with my family since I have been too caught up at work. Now that I’ve realised that my mom won’t be getting any younger and all she wants is to see me genuinely happy, I’ve tried not to seek recognition from KPIs, but make more time for my beloved family and pursue real hobbies that I adore,” Duy said.
The conversation with Duy and Ngọc has very much enlightened me and I feel that there are many young adults out there having struggles from societal expectations while maintaining a life balance as we have had.
At the end of the day, it is we who can precisely judge how well we have performed in life. There are many assets in life rather than big numbers that can bring us true happiness.
Let's all view life with a cool head and warm heart. VNS