A couple of weekends ago, I had my first experience with a Community of Christ Reunion camp. Kiddo and I only stayed for a long weekend rather than the whole week, but it was still a great experience. By far the best experience I had at Reunion was a Monday morning class for young adults and “90s kids” (which is not a label I’ve ever actively applied to myself, but it fit just fine. It was a remarkable class where we were eventually going to be talking about Job but never really did (maybe they did on the following days, after we left)—instead, our first class just made it clear that this was a place where it was okay to feel like you didn’t have your life together, okay to be anxious about the future, okay to not feel like a real adult yet, and okay that the expectations you’d set for yourself in late adolescence didn’t quite pan out as you’d hoped.
These are things that I sometimes think to myself very quietly, but there was something healing and helpful about having an out-loud conversation about adulthood and the future not turning out the way that we expected. Even now, it feels somewhat shameful to admit how helpful all of that was, but I think that just speaks to how much I’ve felt the need to have things together, to do things perfectly, and to never admit that anything less might be the case.
For so much of my life—especially my religious life—I’ve had my expectations for myself turned up to 11. I was (often naturally) good at church, good at school, good at writing, and good with people, and I’ve always believed in Uncle Ben’s maxim that all of these gifts come with responsibility. I grew up expecting—and sometimes even dreaming of—demanding-but-important responsibilities at church, in society, in the workplace, and in my family. I was going to use my gifts to change the world. When I experienced a dual faith crisis and identity crisis in early 2019, it was largely as a result of not being up to the expectations that I had set for myself. When it began to become clear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was no longer the right place for my family, that began to rule out the ecclesiastical responsibilities I thought I would come. I was also wrestling with imposter syndrome at work, and as my kid was getting older, my shortcomings as a father were becoming more and more apparent. My expectations for who I was going to be as an adult were crumbling around me, and my self-worth and mental health with it.
Sitting in camp chairs with people about my own age and hearing hints of similar stories from them helped me transform dashed expectations from a sign of failure to a shared experience that we all went through. Hearing the older facilitators of our class give us permission to do this helped make everything better. I felt relief from decades of church and other expectations to do great things, to become a great and influential person, and to be deeply and consistently dedicated to a good cause. It was okay to sit with my anxiety and my depression, to be just good enough as I was, to acknowledge that my church commitments while in grad school nearly burned me out, and to just be present and talk to other people feeling some of the same things.
On days like this, though, I feel the need to ratchet those expectations back up. For all that my expectations for adulthood haven’t turned out like I hoped, I live a privileged life. I have an advanced degree and a cushy job. I enjoy relative security and a solid support network. I do have gifts and talents that can be put to use for good causes. I’m well read on issues that I think are very important to our present and future. I need to leave room for my anxiety and depression, and I need to make sure my expectations and commitments are not so high as to burn me out. And yet, my privilege comes with responsibility, and doing too little will do more harm to others than doing too much can ever do to me.
I have been wrestling with this dilemma a lot over the past few years, but today, it is clear that I need to wrestle with it more.
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