This article is part of the Help! series.
We live in a culture of impossible expectations. Teens are under incredible pressure to succeed on a number of fronts, including school, sports, church, work, and friends. Young people face constant testing, quizzing, examining, and ranking. To top it off, social media communicates unreasonable expectations. We see the best photos of the best moments presented by the best kids in the best possible way, and we feel the pressure to match up. “If everyone else looks like this or lives like this, so should I!” We then add our own expectations to everyone else’s. All these impossible expectations lead to an inevitable sense of failure and shame.
So how do we aim high without aiming impossibly high? How do we set realistic expectations?
Ask God for your life purpose. God has a purpose for your life, a purpose that he has designed to fit your particular talents, passions, and strengths. It’s vital that you discover this by prayer and study of God’s word. Ask him, “Lord, how have you gifted me, and what will you have me to do? What passions and strengths have you given me?” If we can get clarity about God’s expectations of us, then we can put everyone else’s expectations in the right place.
Counselor David Murray introduces readers to the personal stories of 18 teens who have dealt with different types of anxiety or depression. From these accounts, Murray equips teens with keys to unlock the chains of anxiety and depression and experience new liberty, peace, and joy in their lives.
Get the basics in place. If you can’t take a weekly day off, if you can’t get eight hours of sleep a night, and if you can’t exercise daily, then you’re doing too much. Get these basics of life in place, and whatever time is left is the time you have to do whatever God calls you to do.
Prioritize and prune. You cannot do everything, and God doesn’t want you to try. List your aims in order of importance and chop off the bottom one or two. List your responsibilities and chop off the bottom couple. Notice what didn’t happen. The world did not stop, nor did your life fall apart. Notice what has happened. You’ve created a little bit of margin, some white space in your mind and life. How much better you will feel!
Cut back on social media. Most of the images you see on social media are not realistic depictions of life. They are carefully posed and curated snapshots that convey a false message. The reality of our friends’ lives is usually very different. So why put yourself through so much unnecessary torture by filling your mind with what is artificial?
Accept our limitations. God has given different talents and different amounts of each talent to different people. No two people are the same. God does not call a five-talent person to be a ten-talent person. He calls the five-talent person to use the five talents well.
Learn to say no. Perhaps you think that you can’t say no to other people without harming them or your relationship. Try saying this the next time a friend asks you to go somewhere you don’t want to go: “I’m really sorry, I can’t make that work. But how about we meet up tomorrow evening for coffee?” You’re saying no without going into all the reasons, but you’re also showing that you still want to be friends.
Have an audience of one. Ask yourself, “How would my priorities and choices change if Christ were the only observer here?” (see Col. 3:23). Our working and striving change when we are doing it for Christ rather than for ourselves or anyone else.
Trust in Christ’s perfection There was only one perfect person, Jesus Christ, and any attempt to achieve personal perfection is an attempt to manage without him. Let his perfection cover your imperfection. Speaking of which . . .
Failure is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how clever you are, one day you are going to fail. You may fail to get into your preferred college. You might fail an exam. You will fail at something. Everyone does at some point.
Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you. The most gifted students are usually the most anxious about failing. But there are some important lessons you cannot learn without failing. Failure is an opportunity for growth, not least in humility. Failure teaches us our limitations and weaknesses.
Our working and striving change when we are doing it for Christ rather than for ourselves or anyone else.
Failing in one area does not make us a total failure. There is a big difference between saying “I failed” and “I am a failure.” Saying “I failed” means we are not defined by our failure. Failure then does not determine or ruin our whole lives. Say, “I made a mistake” not, “I am a mistake.”
Failing will soon be forgotten. If you mess up or say something you regret, ask yourself, “How important will this be in a day, in a week, in a month, in a year, in ten years?” This will give you some perspective.
Failure redirects our lives. I can look back on some of my failures with gratitude because I can see how God used them to redirect my life. If I had succeeded, I might have ended up in a terrible marriage or a morally compromised job. Through my failure, God closed a door in order to open a better door. I’ve also seen smaller failures prevent bigger ones.
This article is adapted from Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen's Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression by David Murray.
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