Living up to expectations. I read an article once that suggested the essence of Nirvana is to live free of expectations. Without expectations I can't be disappointed, and no one can be disappointed in me. And what of expectations? Where do they come from? Do I make them up in my interpretation of the way my manager looked at my last report or the look my wife didn't give me? Expectations come from interpretation and a predicting what the future should be based on beliefs and assumptions.
This post is for every person in the world who feels the pressure of living up to someone else's expectations - whether they really are that person's expectations or we kindly made it up for them. This is especially timely given the millions who are being evaluated over the next few months and told whether they are good enough or not. And whether their pay will reflect if they have missed, met or exceeded expectations. My knee jerk reaction is to scream, "Judge righteously!"
I've met expectations. I've exceeded expectations. I've been below expectations. To hell with it. That's how I feel. I want to be me, deal with my world, and answer to my own conscience. Why do I have to prove myself? Why do I feel like I have to be someone else to be accepted? Why is there so much noise in my head when I think of those who I have disappointed? Why can't I try and fail expectations, especially if my goal is to learn and develop?
What if I want to spend my time and effort to improve instead of prove myself?
We're not all politicians.
I was fired from my first job. I had never really dealt with meaningful failure to that point. I had a small family in a new town thousands of miles away from any support system. I wasn't meeting expectations. I couldn't quite grasp what the expectations were, except to fit a certain mold that I just couldn't figure out how to fit as hard as I tried to be untrue to myself. I've never been very good at being someone else. Somehow things work out, right? I think that's God going to bat for all of us, whether or not we meet His expectations. My next job was awesome. I nailed it, but I expected more. Those expectations got me in trouble.
I expected to be a global influence, changing lives and the direction of the world in meaningful ways. My expectations led me to one job interview failure after another. No one needed a world changer. They needed someone who was willing to do whatever others expected. Living up to expectations. Prove yourself. You're not enough. I expected more.
Finally I landed a job that I expected to give me the opportunity to discover how I could have significant, meaningful influence. I wouldn't know the destination until I got there. Employers don't seem to like that much. They didn't like it this time either. I was fired again. I wasn't meeting expectations. Whose expectations? And why did these expectations always seem to be defined by someone who knew little of my journey and my expectations?
This is more than funny. The most comprehensive research on what ratings actually measure was conducted by Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Their study — in which 4,492 managers were rated on certain performance dimensions by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates — revealed that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ peculiarities of perception.
So, fired twice. My fourth job then, I had at least two close calls with unemployment. That would be 3 out of 4. For a guy that never missed growing up, this was becoming quite the confidence crisis. It didn't materialize, but each time I didn't meet expectations that I didn't even know existed I wondered if I had what it took. The good news is I was meeting my expectations. I was getting closer to understanding what I had to offer the world. My ability to predict what the future could bring me was getting better.
I've learned that the first and most foundational need of any individual with performance expectations, is to know those expectations and be bought into them. How the heck does that happen? Can expectations ever be realistic when they are one way? The person setting those expectations is putting their world into mine. I don't have a working spouse like you do. I have significant school debt that you don't. I don't have the same experience or confidence you do. I don't live in your world. How can you set expectations for me based on your world? To be fair, how can I expect you to put expectations out there that aren't forged in the context of your world?
And what can I expect of you? Can I expect some benefit of the doubt if for some reason I can't live up to your expectations set in the context of your world and that are an effort to describe what the future should look like for me, when no one knows my future? Can I expect that when some unforeseen event inevitably changes my world, that you'll revise your expectations for me in a way that considers these changes? Or will you hold fast to expectations set twelve months ago, set in the context of what is now ancient history? A lot happens in twelve months. And if it doesn't, we're not keeping up.
My father often quotes his dad, a WWII fighter pilot,
"Keep your head on a swivel. Expect the unexpected."
I wonder how my world would change if people expected the unexpected from me; if I expected the unexpected from me?