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We’ve only got one shot at this thing called life. And yet, all too many of us tend to give it away to living other people’s expectations.

All too often, young people spend the first two decades of their lives absorbing their world’s expectations for them – figuring out what their parents and communities think they should be doing. They internalize those dreams, those visions, those goals. And then, they spend the next several decades trying to fulfill others’ expectations of what their lives should be like.

And then, sometime on the approach to middle age, they become surprised that they have not yet begun to live their own, authentic life. That they’ve done what was expected of them, but feel lost, unclear if it was ever anything they actually wanted.

This inevitable conflict, that leads to wondrous personal development growth on the one hand, and to failed relationships and red sports cars on the other, can be avoided if we teach our children and ourselves one critical life skill: to set their own expectations for themselves.

The thing is, we think we are living our own expectations, because we’ve internalized others’ expectations as our own. A particular path in school or work, marriage with 2.3 children, living in a certain place — when we’re lucky, we find pure joy and fulfillment in the life set out for us. But all too often, our own expectations get peppered into our lives in bits and pieces, rarely forming a cohesive guide for living.

So how can you begin to live your own expectations, to create fulfilling lives of your own direction? It starts by recognizing that you are at choice!

It’s a delicious moment of revelation when you realize that your choices come more from your perspectives than anything else. In fact, your perspectives establish the options you see and explore. How you view any situation shapes the outcomes that are possible.

So my message is simple, really, the secret to a happy life: Set your own expectations for your life, based on your values and your priorities. Think about what matters to you, deeply, and without judgment of yourself or others. Allow your actions to reflect your lead values. Choose wisely. Allow yourself to see the world as you wish it to be, and allow your choices to create outcomes of joy and meaning.

Even in the midst of sadness, of trials and tribulations, there is joy to be found in the simplest appreciations of life’s wonder, and pure gratitude for the gifts and privileges that grace our worlds. To be free, to be at choice … to live the life you want, in accordance with your values and in concert with your own vision … THAT is truly inspirational.

You’ve got one life – make it count. The choice is yours.

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Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a change agent: a mother, health care advocate, parenting educator, writer, certified professional coach, public speaker, and compassionate listener. She is the co-founder of and the co-creator of SanitySchool (a parent management training program), ParentSuccessSystem (a group coaching program), ADHDParentManual, MinimizeMeltdowns and HomeworkHeadaches. She is the co-author of the book, Parenting ADHD Now! Easy Intervention Strategies to Empower Kids with ADHD.

Elaine feels passionately that parents deserve guidance and skills on the journey to raise “complex” children, and she coaches and trains parents to empower their children, and themselves, to lead independent, fulfilling lives. If you're worried about how your child is going to reach his or her potential, join a community of like-minded parents at, a global training and coaching resource for parents of kids with ADHD, LD, Anxiety, and related challenges.

Elaine is a writer for the Huffington Post and other publications, a public speaker, and regular presenter at national and international events and conferences. She served on the national Board of Directors of CHADD (Children & Adults with ADD), where she chairs the Affiliate Services committee. She has been a consultant for the American Academy of Pediatrics, a content expert for Pfizer, Exception-ALLY and Healthline, and teaches parenting workshops for parents of kids with a broad range of special needs.

Prior to coaching, Elaine served for 8 years on the Executive Committee of Georgia’s Governor's Council for Maternal and Infant Health, and worked in women’s health care nationally. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University in CT, a CORO Fellowship, and CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program.

Elaine is the mom in an ADHD Family of Five.

For more information, please visit ImpactADHD and Parent Success System and SanitySchool

This Post Has 90 Comments

  1. Right on, Elaine! I never thought about it in those terms before. I feel fortunate to have had support early in life that enabled me to follow my own authentic path… but even still, there are times when I hold myself to expectations that are probably not my own – good stuff to ponder! BTW, I love the term “socio-preneur” in your bio! I’ve never heard that one before.

  2. Sounds so easy to do, and sometimes you don’t even realize you’re not living your own expectations, but something to take “stock of” every so often to make sure you’re on the right path. I will share with my kids.

  3. Thank you for this great reminder, Elaine. Yes, we are always at choice in every moment. I try to remember that throughout my days, that no matter what I’m doing at the moment — and that includes friends I’m with, food, work — I am always making a choice and that part of my journey is making only the good ones.

  4. Thank you Elaine! This is a great post and much needed out there to help people be in full expression vs. repression, suppression, and depression of their desires and talents. =)

  5. Sue — that you want to share with your kids is the most gratifying thing I’ve heard today! Thanks for that honor! E 🙂

  6. Love your message! By age 40, I faced what you describe above and felt my career, and much of my life, had been built around the expectations of others. Breaking those habits and setting my own expectations over the past few years has been one of the most empowering and meaningful things I’ve ever done for myself. Look forward to sharing this post with others!

  7. Elaine – Thank you for this wonderful message! It is spot on. I was fortunate enough to make “the choice” when I was 30, but far too many aren’t that lucky and live far too many of their years living up to other’s expectations. The Choice you speak of is one of the most liberating and literally, life changing, choices a person can make. Thank you for articulating it so well! Rick Betts – Atlanta, Ga.

  8. I like the thought of how we “externalize others’ expectations as our own.” Guilty! Thanks for this reminder of the importance of setting our own goals and priorities.

  9. Thank you for the reminder Elaine. So much of life is wasted either trying to live up to others expectations, or even just trying to figure out what they expect in the first place!

  10. Coming from the generation that never saw choices until it was too late to be really happy, this is great guidance for the generations now and to come. Don’t repeat the same mistakes that your parents and grandparents made.

  11. I have come to realize that everything in life is a gift. Sometimes it’s just hard to see what the gift is in the moment.
    This is a wonderful reminder to pay attention to ourselves so that we can figure out what’s important and who we are. I try to avoid missing out on fun because of all the “you have to” and “shoulds” that once filled my head. Elaine and her family are phenomenal role models for living authentically. Thanks for sharing it … I’m passing it on to my peeps!

  12. Spot on!!! Figuring out what we really want… What brings us joy and happiness and passionately pursing THAT offers so much more than the pursuit if the “American Dream “…. Live your own Dream… Whatever that is!! Thank you for putting me right back on my own path!

    Sharing with my college age boys and nieces to remind them too that it’s what they want for themselves that matters the most!

  13. It’s really never to late to make a change, just really scarey. Your article is a great reminder that we are the only ones in charge of our lives and must give ourselves permission to make the choices open to us.

    1. I used to think that change was scary. Now, the idea of not living my one life based on what’s important to me — THAT’s much scarier!! 🙂

      I love this conversation — what strikes me, most, is the inter-generational chord that it is striking. I’ve been getting messages (here and privately) today from an older generation feeling that it’s too late for them (which it’s NOT, by the way), and I LOVE the many parents who want to share this with your children and young adults. I guess it’s not about mid-life, after all — seems to be a universally ageless conversation!

      Thanks for the thoughtfulness, everyone!

  14. thank you so much for this piece, Elaine. it fits right in with where my life has been for about a year now. it’s a tough thing to figure out sometimes what pieces of my life i’ve based on other’s expectations of me vs. my own. this piece is like another cobblestone on my journey to living my truth, not anyone else’s. thank you!

  15. Wonderful piece, Elaine! It is delicious that so many of my clients (regardless of age, yay!) see the reward of living “in choice” – and how liberating it is!

  16. Great article and reminder that we can create our life. It seems easy and yet we get trapped in what we ‘believe’ others’ expectations are of us. It reminds me, too, we are always at choice … even when we do not choose we are choosing to do nothing (to be more fulfilled for example). In gratitude!

  17. I love this! You’re right David, this is exciting. A great succinct reminder that yes, we do have a choice in playing the cards that we’ve been dealt.

  18. Good thoughts to keep in mind daily with ourselves as well as how we influence our children! Thanks Elaine!

  19. Elegant, kind, and absolute truth. I appreciate your perspective and I share your insight. It is not vain, selfish, or rude to form our own version of our lives as I was taught! In fact, I believe the purpose of each existence must be lived to the fullest to bring every gift and opportunity for peace and love into this world! Thank you Elaine for your constant light.

  20. Well said, Elaine. Recognize you are at choice, make a choice, and take action on it! Wisdom comes with birthdays. I am not sure how much of this I would have understood in my 20’s.

  21. This is great and came at such a perfect time. I’m nowhere near the midlife crisis point, but, as a person in her second decade, the unconscious absorbing of others’ expectations is a daily reality. After years surrounded by pre-law and pre-meds students realizing that being a lawyer or doctor is not their dream, and English and computer science majors realizing that it is theirs, I have noticed that even as students choose their own path and the expectations of parents slowly loosen their grip, other expectations take the place of their parents’. The agony over getting the “right” job or getting into the “right” graduate program exists in most students, (With the semester about to start, I am experiencing a taste of the “right” virus first-hand.) and that persists until it is replaced by the expectations of employers, spouses, or thesis advisers.That agony comes from a barrage of many, often conflicting, expectations being internalized. Elaine presents a novel way of looking at the trajectory of your life through the lens of your own expectations and desires. It’s definitely easier said that done, but Elaine’s daughter Bex is proof that choosing your own path based on your own desires and values is entirely possible. She not only lives outside of traditional expectations of the life of a 20 year old woman, but she is awe-inspiringly happy and successful doing it. Thanks for this Elaine! It put school year anxieties back in check.

    1. Jess – such cogent observations, so well written and clearly articulated. It is truly an ageless dilemma, isn’t it? The idea that we should live our lives for others, or that it is somehow selfish to live according to our own expectations, is a notion that I lived with for most of my life, and now I find rather hard to fathom. I hope you keep those anxieties in check long enough to live YOUR life to its fullest!

  22. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to make choices about how we live and what we do with our lives. I am grateful for the freedom to choose abundance over scarcity. From this perspective, let’s help others live their best lives, no matter their circumstances.

  23. very thought provoking, Elaine, thank you. Where were you in my mid-20s when I was making an ill-informed career choice ?! Am intent on sharing with my kids for sure.

  24. Living our lives according to others’ expectations is the very definition of living life by default, and not by design.

    Elaine Taylor-Klaus’ wisdom about how to avoid a mid-life crisis should, at the very least, be good food for thought and introspection, if not a clarion call for us to acknowledge that we’ve ordered our lives to conform to the expectations of others; parents, teachers, peers, or society in general. The challenge then is to understand our purpose, and to pursue it with passion. For when we do, we’re not only the most fulfilled, but the most effective, as well. This is what people mean when they refer to “being in the zone”. It’s where everything seems possible and effortless.

    This is all well and good for those of us already well down the path of life. But what can we do for our children, for those we hold dear, in fact for many with whom we have influence? Simple. As difficult as it may be at times, we should resist the temptation to project our expectations for others’ lives onto them. Instead, we should assist others as we’re able to discover their purpose, then encourage and support them in living on pursue, for a purpose!

  25. i love this – thank you for reminding me about the power of choice. what a gift you have given me. i will be passing it along to the boys – all 4 of them

  26. Great article!! “Choice” is a predominate theme we use in our camp pre-season when we are educating our counselors. We always tell them everything is within their power. They have the “choice” to make the best of any situation, so therefore their happiness is within their control. So well written, as always. Happy 50th Birthday Elaine!! Sending you lots of love!!

  27. I admire families that help their young people set the stage for midlife by helping them understand there will come a day when it is so very important that they set their own expectations. I see the T-Ks doing that, never escaping or avoiding the parental role (meaning not diminishing their proper parental authority) yet aware, even with their younger ones, of the adult lives that will blossom from the deep seeds in each of their children. Elaine T-K knows of what she speaks–this piece is inspiring for adults, yes, but also is full of the lived wisdom of someone who has carefully attended to and provided nurturance for the challenges to be found in all stages of human development.

  28. Love this, Elaine! About a year ago, I woke up to the fact that I felt like life was passing me by. A bit after that, I realized that I was choosing to let it pass me by and that I have the choice not to allow that. It’s really powerful to realize that I can exercise that choice anytime and as many times as I need to. Thank you!

  29. What you are writing about is completely true. And, you simplify C.G.Jung’s individuation process, which is all about finding out who you really are once you figure out that generations worth of conditioning may not be what you believe in or want. And yes, this process of figuring it all out usually begins in mid-life. So thanks for encouraging parents and all of us not to force our unlived lives onto our children.

  30. Great post Elaine. Why do we have to wait so long to reach the point of knowing what we want? The older I get, the more I understand my parents trying to share their advice. Like my own children, I didn’t always listen.

  31. Elaine – I think I live your advice each day – at least I strive to. Though I know I’m too often judging myself instead of patting me on the back. I do think I cheer others on to live their best life. Even more so now with so many friends sending their kids to college and now reevaluating what their role is.

    1. Kim, I think we’re always re-evaluating this every day — it’s got to be conscious, because for some reason, the unconscious human tendency (or maybe the one in our society) is to fall back into other’s expectations. It’s a daily practice, I guess!

  32. Such a great article Elaine! One of the greatest things that we can teach children is that the answers lie within ourselves.

  33. Thank you for the reminder Elaine. When are you writing a book? I love your outlook and have always found your approach to life fascinating.

  34. What an inspiring and thoughtful article. It seemed as though the message was intended solely for me to reflect on my own life journey. I now want to be more authentic in all facets of me.

  35. What a thought provoking article! I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear this, Elaine. Thanks so much!

  36. such inspiration and aspiration on this age from wise ones, young and old. Thanks for being part of the conversation today, everyone — it has truly been a pleasure. Shabbat Shalom! Elaine 😉

  37. “they become surprised that they have not yet begun to live their own, authentic life”…. I’m seeing this with many of my peers as their kids leave the nest. Sometimes sad because they are only now realizing that they had a choice all along, and could have made room for greater self care and personal development. Thanks Elaine… great post. Beverlee

  38. “How you view any situation shapes the outcomes that are possible.” I love this line. I’m forever working on this realization- that I choose how to view (and respond) to life’s situations. Thank you for this reminder, and for all your wise and inspiring words, Elaine.

    1. so true — and yet, when we realize that we can just decide again, that our choices are not permanent, it helps!

  39. Wonderful encouragement to free yourself from external standards and be true to your own internal values and desires. Certainly appreciate the positive personal confidence this arcticle promotes.

  40. elaine, what a smart post. you put into a few terse sentences what i believe in, but sometimes have trouble articulating. glad your brilliance is circulating the planet!

  41. I found Elaine’s words to be very powerful and a wonderful reminder of what is important in my life. It also made me stop and ask if I am allowing my son to set his own expectations and how I can start today.

  42. As an adult who wasn’t diagnosed with ADD until the age of 33, I went through a crisis when I realized how much time I’d lost. Years of watching my peers move forward in education, careers, etc., while I struggled just to keep my head above water left me feeling hopelessly behind.

    Then, as luck would have it, I stumbled into a career at the precise moment I became a dad. Not only was I working with people more than 10 years younger than me, but I couldn’t throw myself into the job completely. They were doing what I couldn’t do when I was that age, now with more responsibility I still couldn’t do it. I drove myself crazy trying to make up for lost time, and climb the ladder, but hit a dead end.

    I don’t know if I’ve accepted rings as they are or just resigned myself to them. But sometimes I feel like whatever I’m going to be, I probably already am.

  43. It is never too late. I’m on the way to 55 and in the past 12 months have made a series of unprecedented life choices (the unprecedented part being the fact that I was proactive in my own life and didn’t just follow along someone else’s path). I’m more myself than I have been in the past 40 years. Here goes!

  44. This is so on!! I am proof of following everyone else direction to my dismay! But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those mistakes. Thank you Elaine for sharing and inspiriting us, because at the end of our lives we only will answer to our SELF.

    1. It’s amazing how often we lose touch with our own direction — and usually, it starts out of love for others, but we just let it get away from us!

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