How I Finally Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations and Reclaimed My Sanity

“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” — Rumi

Do you often get disappointed or frustrated? Do you feel things never go your way and people don’t behave the way they should?

If you say yes to any of these questions, chances are you might have very high or even unrealistic expectations.

It’s normal to have expectations. After all, expectations are just our projections of what might happen in the future. However, they may or may not be realistic, and I believe that often our expectations are inflated.

As a society, we celebrate achievements and successes. We prefer the extraordinary over the ordinary. We are not satisfied with the status quo. We are results-driven and impatient. We want to get from A to Z. Today.

How Motherhood Challenged My Perfectionism

It’s hard not to be influenced by the wider culture we live in. I’m no exception.

While I’m careful to keep my expectations in check, I still get caught out by surprise from time to time. In fact, as a recovering perfectionist, I wasn’t aware of how inflated my expectations were and how I had failed to adjust them when I became a new mum.

As a result, I quickly became overwhelmed and I discovered to my dismay that my life had changed. Forever.

Instead of having the freedom to choose my work hours for my life coaching practice, my new working days revolved around my baby daughter’s nap time.

In the first 3 months, she was taking very short daytime naps, so that meant I didn’t get to work much, which was probably a good thing in hindsight given how sleep-deprived I was. Gradually she took longer and longer naps. Now she’s 16 months old and she naps on average three hours a day.

However, for the first six months or so I felt deflated because I was still comparing myself to my peers. By the way, my peers consisted of other type A over-achievers, entrepreneurs and business owners!

It’s little wonder that, for example, I felt like a loser when I heard a fellow new mum had returned to her business six weeks after giving birth. I totally lost sight of what I wanted and what worked for me and my family.

From Perfectionism to (Unexpected) Grace

The turning point came when I saw that I simply couldn’t complete my long daily to-do list without driving myself crazy — trust me, I tried in the first few months. But with the lack of sleep, it was hard.

Also, I stopped comparing myself to others, especially to my go-getting entrepreneurial colleagues. I realised we were all in a different ‘season’ of our lives and therefore had different priorities. Not to mention our personalities and circumstances were also different.

So I decided to give myself grace. Instead of having daily to-do lists, I started keeping weekly or even fortnightly to-do lists. It felt so good! All of a sudden I had more space to get things done.

While I was still getting things done, I was doing them at a more sane pace. I slowed down. I went after consistency, not quantity.

Most importantly, I didn’t beat myself up when I took one or two weeks to complete what it used to take me a day or two to finish.

And something unexpected happened. I stopped procrastinating. This is a biggie. As a recovering perfectionist, I was also prone to procrastination (the two often go hand in hand). However, realising how little free time I had, and how much I needed to get done in that limited time — ranging from one to three hours a day — I couldn’t afford to delay any action.

So, I wrote a book in 9 months! It was practically my second baby. Consistency turned out to be an amazing ally for a new mum. I wrote for 10 to 20 minutes a day for the first couple of months. Then I gradually built on that and I was writing more than an hour a day towards the end of the third month.

And yes, you guessed it, I wrote while my baby napped.

Dare To Go Against the Trend and Do What Works for You

If you’ve been holding on to unrealistic expectations, either consciously or unconsciously, it’s time to let them go before they destroy your sanity for good. It’s time to say no to the prevailing culture that celebrates achievements at all costs.

Realising that you are in a different circumstance or ‘season’ from your peers can help you adjust your expectations accordingly and avoid unhealthy comparisons.

And instead of aiming for impossible standards, how about going for just a few important goals you truly desire and at a pace that works for you? Instead of overnight successes, aim for consistency and focus instead on taking the next small step, and just keep taking one step after another.

After all, even 10 minutes a day would add up to more than an hour a week and five hours at the end of month, taking you a lot further towards your goals than you otherwise would. You may not have time, but you can create time.

You’d be more relaxed, more calm and happier while at the same time achieve more. Yes, it’s possible and you can do it too.

Originally published at on November 7, 2018.