Living Up to Expectations

I’m a huge disappointment to some people. I don’t know who exactly but I’m sure I’ve disappointed some people along to way to where I am, which is right where I want to be. 

While I may have not lived up to other people’s expectations for my life I’ve most definitely lived up to mine so I’m good. In fact, very good. 

I’ve known plenty of people who have lived a stress filled life. Much of their stress was caused by trying to live up to other people’s expectations for their life. They didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I would frequently try to help them by pointing out that they were someone too and their expectations for their life mattered most.

If you truly want a happy life the first thing you need to know is that you are not obligated to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own. Your needs and wants matter! You may not live longer but you’ll live a lot better if you do things because YOU care about them. If you do things because YOU feel they are the right thing to do. You’ll be a ton happier if you stop doing things because someone else expects you to.

Sometimes living up to your own expectations will mean going it alone. That’s okay, you don’t need someone holding your hand every step of the way. You don’t need anyone’s permission to live your life. Some people who begin your journey with you will fall way before you finish. Don’t feel bad that they are in their own path…that’s why we are called individuals. 

Don’t let anyone tell you what’s possible for you. People will try to put their expectations on you with seemingly harmless little phrases like, “be realistic.” If people like Steve Jobs had been realistic I wouldn’t be writing this on an iPad right now. Trust your instincts, only you know  what’s possible for you. Trusting yourself, believing in yourself, is the most realistic thing you’ll ever do. 

One of my great mentors once told me that every person has three versions of themselves. The version that other people think they are. The person they think they need to be, that’s the version of ourselves that we try to portray to other people. Then there’s the third version, that’s who we really are. We rarely show that person to other people, sometimes we even try to hide it from ourselves.

When we try to live up to someone else’s expectations it creates huge “gaps” between those 3 versions. Those gaps create stress in our lives. Living up to your own expectations closes those gaps. But you must be honest with yourself about what and who you want to be. You must also be willing to disappoint a few people who think they know you better than you know yourself.

The best advice I’ve ever received is the best advice I can ever give. That advice is to be you. The right people, the people who should be in your life will find you. The right people will accept you as you are. Their expectations for you will be what YOU want for yourself. The people who care about you will help you along the way. They will finish the journey with you. 

It’s hard to completely shut out other people’s expectations for your life. But the more you can live your life according to YOUR own expectations the better your life will be. 

The Low Cost of High Expectations

Successful people expect more from themselves. More discipline, more effort, more planning, more teamwork, more results, more everything. They won’t settle for less. And it costs them very little.

Less successful do hope for more but most often expect to settle for less. When they expect to settle for less then less is exactly what they get. And it will cost them a ton.

As I write this I’m reminded of a story that comes from the great state of Texas. It happened years ago, when Texas was was beginning an extensive school testing program. The goal of the testing program in a nutshell was to determine if the teaching methods, and the teachers, were effective in helping the students learn. 

Towards the end of a particular school year each student was tested to determine their level of advancement from the prior school year. The results were shared with both students and their parents. 

This story involves two individual students, one a classic “A” student and the other, well the other was just kind of hanging on.  When the test results came back for these two students the educators and counselors were astonished. 

According to the test results the “A” student was way over-performing, he really had no business getting anything higher than a C. They told him that what ever he was doing he should keep doing it but they couldn’t hide their surprise at his results. The other student was found to be way under-performing, it was determined that he was capable of much higher grades if only he would make the effort. They encouraged him to try harder.

I’m sure both students and their parents were surprised by the results but in any event, the expectations for the next school year had been set. They were set by educators and counselors, both I’m sure well-meaning, whose job it was to manage students, not lead them.

Neither student disappointed, they both met the expectations set for them. The now former “A” student begin turning in “C” level work and sometimes even worse. The formerly low performing student suddenly begin doing “B” and sometimes even “A” level work. 

Expectations are an amazing motivator. 

Here’s something even more amazing… about half-way though the school year the guidance counselors discovered a mistake had been made with the test results. The test results for the previous year’s “A” student showed that he was in fact an outstanding student with the ability to quickly learn new concepts. His “A’s” should have been expected. The results also showed that the previously under-performing student was, for whatever reason, not able to internalize the curriculum and turn it into useable information. His grades accurately reflected that reality.

The only thing that had really changed for those two students were the expectations that they had for themselves. Other people “helped” them set their expectations but they had to agree to them for any real change to happen. 

The leadership lesson here is pretty straightforward. Managers may expect more from their people but leaders encourage their people expect more from themselves. 

The life lesson here is even clearer. High expectations cost virtually nothing but low expectations can cost you your success. If you want more then you need to expect more. Expect more from yourself and never allow yourself to settle for less than you’re capable of accomplishing. No one, not even you, rises to low expectations. 

Expecting less, and settling for less, results in less, of everything, and that is a fact!