Please Stop Expecting Anything Impressive From Me

Warning: Some spoilers for Disney’s “Encanto” and the song “Surface Pressure,” as well as other spoilers for the show “Man Seeking Woman.”

This song is a little too good

After the movie “Encanto” was released, I saw a lot of praise for Luisa’s song “Surface Pressure.” Although I’m not a huge fan of the movie or really anything by Walt Disney Pictures, I did love the song for its clever lyrics and catchy beat. I’ve heard it referred to as the “Anthem for Burned-Out Former Gifted Kids.” In her song, Luisa sings about the intense burden she feels to meet everyone’s expectations and its effect on her mental health. I particularly love the line, “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” How many times have any of us felt this way?

But the song, and Luisa’s story, miss a component of what makes that pressure so crushing. Although we see her struggle to meet everyone’s expectations, the story doesn’t necessarily show her dealing with the fallout of not meeting those expectations. Sure, eventually, her story wraps itself up when the Madrigals and villagers agree to let her have an afternoon off once in a while. Also, Luisa can simply look at how hapless Maribel is treated to get an idea of what her life would be like without powers, and that may have poured further fuel on the fire of her anxiety. Still, I wish the story had gone further than that.

(This may be as good a time as any for me to reiterate that I am not the center of the universe and I do not need every film and TV show I watch to be relatable and in line with my personal experiences. But it does feel quite nice when they do.)

A man is yelling in anger at a woman
My measured response to “Encanto”‘s failure to satisfy all of my very reasonable emotional needs

I wish the story had shown how Luisa dealt with failing to meet those expectations. Being afraid to disappoint people is one thing. Actually, disappointing them is another. Now, I’d like to clarify that some of the anxiety surrounding failing to meet another person’s expectations is just that – anxiety. If you’re unable to perform a task for someone, or if you do a bad job at something, most people don’t really care. If I ask someone to do a favor for me, and they can’t do it, then that’s fine. It seemed like that was how Luisa’s conflict would play out. She got a hammock, took an afternoon off, and people were cool with it. The anxiety was mostly in her head. That is a story worth telling in its right, but it’s not the story I’m interested in (though I’m glad if it’s the story you needed).

For the record, I’m not sure I would describe myself as a Burned-Out Former Gifted Kid because the truth is, I don’t feel burnt out. I’m just starting to understand myself, and I’m excited to see where that goes. But I do understand what it feels like to be told you’re an exceptional person when you’re younger, only to learn the lesson repeatedly that I wasn’t exceptional. I was just myself, which at that time, didn’t feel good enough. It’s one thing to fear disappointing other people. It’s another thing to do it.

I feel like a show that really nails this feeling is the episode “Card” in the second season of “Man Seeking Woman.” The show follows Josh Greenberg, played by Jay Baruchel, an average guy in his late 20s, as he unsuccessfully searches for love. Joined by his crass friend, Mike, played perfectly by Eric Andre, and his overachieving sister, Liz, played by Britt Lower, Josh navigates romantic scenarios that often take a hilarious turn for the surreal. For example, in the first episode, Liz sets Josh up on a date with a garbage-eating bridge troll. And the bridge troll is out of his league, considering she’s the executive director of a non-profit, and he’s just a temp.

Man Seeking Woman is currently streaming on Hulu

Sadly, his date with the bridge troll doesn’t go well, and Josh remains a single temp for the next two seasons. Until he’s offered the position of Office Manager at his firm. It’s not a glamorous role, but he’s thrilled at the prospect of promotion and wants to accept it. Then he does what any idiot would do: he tells his mother, and she’s disappointed. Why would Josh want to accept a role that’s beneath him? Doesn’t Josh know how wonderful he is? Josh is so smart and capable! Josh can do anything if he sets his mind to it!

So Josh takes his mom’s advice. He signs up for a bunch of computer programing courses to become a video game designer. And at first, it goes well, but then it all goes to crap when the classes become slightly more challenging, and he realizes he’s way out of his depth. Because that happens sometimes – you try something, and even though you put your all into it, it doesn’t work out. That’s life.

It isn’t until Josh speaks with his mom again at the end of the episode that he says what resonated with me:

Josh: Yeah, uh, I quit those classes. I was just in way over my head. I took that office manager job.

Mom: You’re better than that job.

Josh: No, I’m not. I’m not; that job is literally the best I can do, and I’ll be honest. All the, like, overwhelming expectation and pride was making me feel terrible about myself.

Man Seeking Woman, “Card”

After this confrontation, Josh’s mom apologizes for putting so much pressure on him, and it is a sweet moment. By the end of “Card,” Josh is set up as the new office manager at his company. He gets a fancy new business card and a teeny pay bump. It doesn’t seem like much, but for him, it is a step toward his future. He can finally afford to buy beer that doesn’t taste like sewer water and that small act makes him feel like a grown-up.

I’m not Josh Greenberg. I’ve never been on a date with a bridge troll, and I don’t like playing video games. But I have been in a similar situation dealing with other people’s expectations, and I wish I’d dared to speak up like he did. How often have I wanted to say, “No, I can’t do any better than this. This is my level.”

And like Josh said, that expectation can make you feel terrible about yourself. It feels awful when someone tells you that you’re smart enough to get into Berkeley, and then you don’t. It makes you doubt yourself in ways previously unimaginable. It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds of possible reasons you didn’t get into Berkeley, and none of them have to do with you not being good enough. Worse, you have to have the conversation with that person, letting them know you failed or were rejected or couldn’t do what they wanted. Unfortunately, that conversation doesn’t always go as well as it did for Josh Greenberg. Sadly I don’t have much advice for you beyond “try to cry as much as possible so the conversation ends sooner.”

Obviously, I wish I was as smart as my family seems to think I am. Who knows, then maybe I’d be in medical school now, or I would have done better in AP Physics, or I’d have passed those CPA exams, but I’m just myself. I am working on being okay with that. And there are aspects of myself that I like and that I think will propel me towards a career I love. I am not the smartest person in the world, nor am I as smart as my family pretends I am, but I’m curious about the world around me, and I care enough to try and learn more. I think a willingness to work hard is a better indicator of success, even if that hard work involves purchasing new office chairs as opposed to rerouting a river with your super strength.

Maybe that’s the key to subverting burnout. It’s caring about something and seeing where that leads you. Everyone else’s expectations will just have to take a seat.

3 thoughts on “Please Stop Expecting Anything Impressive From Me

  1. I’m glad that Disney movies are at least addressing more internal problems that people deal with like social pressure, self worth, generational trauma, etc. These things need to be talked about! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Hopefully if they ever do an Encanto series, they’ll get into more details about Madrigal life post-movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment! And I agree – I think it’s wonderful that Disney is taking steps to address those issues, and in my un-expert opinion “Surface Pressure” is one of the best songs they’ve written in a long time. “Dos Oruguitas” is also spectacular, but I did not have quite a personal reaction to it.

      I think Disney should absolutely consider adapting Encanto as a series! The premise and the characters are well-suited for a TV show. Even the opening song from the film sounded a bit like a theme song. And if Disney does turn it into a TV show, then I hope they continue to explore Luisa’s character, because I think she was a true stand-out in that movie!

      Like

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