Written by Sofia Fortunato

I used to be a daydreamer. I dreamt about how a better world would look like, or about the person I will become in the future. When I daydreamt, that person appeared to me as a talented scientist, or a children’s book writer-illustrator, or sometimes an artist exhibiting at a gallery, or a non-fiction science author, or a professional photographer exploring nature, or like the musician I was as a child. In other occasions, I daydreamt about improving certain aspects in my life, such as being a better mum and partner, or about learning more skills at work.  

This person I wanted to become appeared to me like a mirage. A mirage I constantly followed, but following this mirage caused a lot of trouble in my life. Following this mirage produced exhaustion both in my body and to the people around me. This mirage made me push myself to the limits of what I could achieve and manage in day (or even in a lifetime), to a point in which I felt so overwhelmed that it was hard to cope with life.  

Original work by Sofia Fortunato 2019

After following this mirage for years, I decided that it was time to stop and take a break, and when I did, I asked  to myself: Am I asking too much of myself? Am I imagining a self that is greater than what I could achieve? Am I setting my self-expectations too high because I see this mirage?  So if seeing this mirage is the problem, how do I stop myself from seeing and following it?

Let’s go back to the concept of expectation. “Expectations is a strong belief that something would happen.” Some psychologists call it “Magical thinking.”  Studies in psychology have showed that people with high self-expectations were more likely to succeed when trying to reach a goal. People with high self-expectations worked hard towards their goals, even when things went wrong.  In other words, being a big dreamer is good. Right?

Women are often told to have big dreams. We are told we can achieve anything we want. However, a while ago, I started  to realise that having big dreams weren’t always a good thing. Have you ever thought instead: how realistic are your self-expectations? Or until what point do you set our self-expectations so you could reach a dream? Until getting sick?

Based on my personal experience, having high self-expectations sent me away from reality because pretending that I could achieve all of the big dreams I mentioned above, guided me instead blindly towards a mirage of myself that wasn’t reliable. In other words, My dreams sent me to failure because I asked too much of myself (and others) without being realistic.

So what did I decide to do? I took my notebook and my pencil. I sat on the beach, and while listening to the waves (check Seaside Writing), I made a list. In that list, I wrote all of my wishes. Then by using rational thinking, I asked to myself the following questions:

  • Can you realistically being both a professional scientist and an artists?
  • Do you want to spend more quality time with your kids? Or do you want to do a lot during the day so that you are exhausted when they get home?
  • Do you really need to do this right now? Or can you wait for next year after you finish that other project?
  • Can your desire of learning music wait for when kids are older? Or can you instead learn together with them at home while they practice?
  • Do you really want to paint to exhibit at a gallery? Or do you just want to paint because it brings you a lot of joy and relaxation?
  • Do you need to write all those things your head tells you to write? Or do you focus on one gender at a time?
  • How many productive hours do you have in a day for writing? And what can I realistically achieve in that time?

After I cleared my priorities in life, and what dream could be achievable, I rearranged them according to my current situation and reset new realistic life goals. Then, I bought a weekly planner so I could turn my new goals into actions.

My weekly planner is colorful and filled with  illustrations. It also has small space from writing on each day. This allows me to stick to small goals (yes! the smaller the better for your sanity) and achieve them in an organised manner.  My weekly planner gives me a sense of routine and although routines feel so awful for a creative person like me, I must admit that it helps me to control filling my head with high self-expectations.

I must confess that I still see a mirage of myself, however, I am more careful when she appears. I question what I see and try to avoid following her, because she is a product of my imagination and could be misleading my life.

Bio: Sofia was born in Venezuela. She moved to the land of the Vikings in her early twenties living in Norway for ten years. She has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology but decided to take a big leap from academia to become a writer. She is the creator and writer of the website Outdoor Hobbits. When she is not writing, you can find her at the swimming pool, either training or teaching kids to swim. She currently lives in tropical North Queensland with her two daughters, Australian partner and four chickens.