How to let yourself off the hook (when expectations are high and life feels short).

Do you feel you are constantly on the hook?

It’s a strange phrase – think – the opposite of ‘off the hook’.

Being caught on the hook makes you feel culpable, or guilty, as though you can never relax or let go.

In recent years letting myself off the hook has been an idea I have become very attached to. I like the idea that I am freeing myself from… well anything that has me tied up really.

These are not physical obstacles but mindsets, ways of thinking that have stopped me living the life I wanted.

The hook was expectation.

Whether these expectations were realistic or unrealistic, achievable or pie in the sky, mine or someone else’s for me, it didn’t seem to matter. I saw the standard I should be able to meet and held myself to account on it. And felt a failure when I didn’t manage to meet it.

My check list was long.

And it became my undoing.

Every unchecked box, every failed task, every unmet expectation confirmed my suspicion – that I was not good enough.

The hook was who I thought I should be.

An idealised form of myself I had created and curated.

A version of myself that was spoken over me implicitly and explicitly.

A life I imagined was expected of me.

A life I thought I wanted.

It had to go.

The hook was ceaseless activity and progress.

I thought my life was weighed by the amount I achieved and accomplished.

Productivity and responsibility were my watchwords, the keys to a life of meaning – or so I thought.

The more I managed to live under their perimeters, the more I thought I was worth.

Then one day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I decided to let myself off the hook. 

I chose to release myself from the pressure of these traps; the relentless chasing and inevitable sense of failure. I realised no one else could do this for me, I had to decide to do it for myself.

I started to consider what kind of life I wanted. I began to think of my life as a place with possibilities, where it wasn’t all already marked out for me.

Someone recently described this phrase to me as the mantra of my life, I say it so often.

And it is. It has to be.

If I am not deliberately thinking about it, I will, on autopilot, hook myself again prioritising achievement and productivity and  worrying about other peoples’ ideas of what my life should be.

Dismantling this mindset was and is bloody hard work.

These ideas of what a successful life should look like are so long established, so seemingly set in stone.

But we have stories to help us, and stories are powerful.

Telling stories distinguishes us from all other living things.

I needed to learn to tell a new story. To build a new narrative about my life.

In re-writing my story, I have started to steer a course through calmer waters, where there is more room and space for play and enjoyment. Where there is joy. And peace. And presence.

The new story goes like this. It is true for me and for you.

You won’t think it is, but it is. Don’t listen to the lies that tell you this is true for everyone else and not for you, that you somehow don’t deserve or haven’t earned this story.

Because this is something you don’t have to and can’t earn.

It just is.

The new story:

I am worthy of love and acceptance and belonging simply because I am me and I am here.

It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, I am still worthy.

There is grace available to me regardless of my actions or abilities, I only need to stop and remember.

Winning, or succeeding, or being productive, or constantly active are not necessary to live a life of meaning.

I get to choose my life, I do not have to live one someone else has dictated or expects.

I am enough and I get to choose my life.

I get to choose my life.

I get to choose my life.

And I am enough.

Gradually I started talking differently. I began to rehearse these new truths. The words sounded odd in my mouth. Unfamiliar, alien.

But I liked the way they made me feel.

Inwardly I grinned. Like bunking off school, or getting away with not doing your homework, it felt illicit and good. I was stepping out of the expected course, dispensing with all the responsibility and obligation I had carried for such a long time. It was as though someone had suddenly let me in on the joke: that life could be good and fun, that I could live my life without oughts, should and musts dictating my time, that I could enjoy my days without constantly worrying if I was meeting the mark.

The sense of relief and freedom was unexpected and very welcome.

I have spent the past seven years figuring out how to remain off the hook. And I have been writing about it here on this blog for the past four. If you are new to my blog please have a look around – you are welcome here.

Also maybe you will want to sign up for my email series – Seven Days of Hope. For a week I will send you an email with words (written and as an audio file so you can listen if you prefer) to bring relief and hope. You can sign up to receive this below. If you have identified with anything I have written here, big love to you, I know how tiring life is when you are living like this. X


  • Sarah
    Posted at 12:43h, 26 October Reply

    Thank you, Ellie. Just reading your post today caused me to relax, and it’s a huge blessing to know that someone understands and is also walking the long way through this. Sarah x

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 13:25h, 29 October Reply

      Yes it is a long way, but it is the good way, I’m convinced of it. Towards freedom and hope. Thanks for your words Sarah xx

  • Leslie Newman
    Posted at 21:53h, 27 October Reply

    Love this and the hope you give. Yes, letting ourselves off the hook = freedom! I’m pinning this article!

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 13:23h, 29 October Reply

      Thank you Leslie. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • LJayne
    Posted at 14:48h, 29 October Reply

    SO glad I found you. I too am working my way through recovery from anxiety and what you write really resonates with me. I’m learning to let go of all sorts of expectations that are unrealistic in favour of a life that is authentic and freeing.

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 09:28h, 30 October Reply

      Thank you. Keep going in your recovery! xx

  • Denise Sultenfuss
    Posted at 20:42h, 30 October Reply

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts via Hope*Writers Friday Shares even though here it is Monday and I am just now getting to the task. But visiting your site was worth the wait! Because Fridays are so frenetic for us, I can’t savor the posts so I treated myself to a writer’s break this afternoon and hung around your site reading worthy words that you artfully scribed for people like me who need and enjoy reading them. Thanks so much.

    • ElliJohnson
      Posted at 12:33h, 31 October Reply

      Hi Denise, thanks for your words. So glad you are enjoying my posts and finding some hope in them x

    Posted at 13:20h, 19 September Reply

    and unto you big love

    thanks for sharing the discoveries and your time

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