Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#17 Great Expectations

September 17th 2009

Great Expectations

Most of us live in the shadow of our own and other people’s expectations. We usually fall into 2 categories; either the expectations set for us by our families, friends, peers or ourselves is too high and we are always falling short, or the expectations are set very low so that anything that is achieved is a nice surprise and one is rarely disappointed. I would venture to say that a great majority of us in the work world fall into the former category and are chasing great expectations that many times seem to elude us.

It’s an interesting one this topic as it has forced me to sit down and deconstruct the expectations that I attempt to live up to everyday. Expectations are all around us. If you come from a family whose parents are still together, then the expectation that you not divorce is high. Which means if you are the 1 in 2 that will experience a divorce, you then feel like a complete and utter failure when it happens. Things are similar in the work force. If you come from a successful family within the, let’s say, banking sector, then the pressure for you to go on to become a success in that field is high. It’s the same across almost anything. Expectations are placed on us to go to certain schools, achieve certain grades, marry a certain kind of person, live in the ‘right’ area, earn a standard of living, and achieve in whatever career falls into the ‘appropriate’ file, which is usually some sort of corporate blue chip career. But what about the rest of us? What about the ones for whom the mould is just not enough? Or the ones who seek to carve out a different path, their own path?

It’s ironic, because people who stray from the standard expectations are usually the people that are most highly regarded and celebrated today. We call them ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘trail blazers’ and we write books about them and how to replicate their success. Many of them buck the conventional trends; Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, Richard Branson never even made it to higher education, and Oprah came from a background that many of us could not even begin to imagine for the most powerful woman in the world. Yet these 3 individuals are synonymous across the world with success and entrepreneurship. So why are we still trying to so desperately to fit into a certain mould or conform to expectations that are often not our own?

In all honesty, I don’t know the answer. I can barely articulate my own internal fight with the expectations that I live with. But I am going to put myself out there and say it’s probably a mixture of fear and pride. Fear, in that many of us fear we are letting people down. Letting our parents down, our own kids perhaps, our peers, our bosses or even ourselves. Pride in that if we do take that risk and stray off the beaten path and it doesn’t work, then we’ll be sitting their licking our wounds while the rest of the world laughs. Now in reality, that doesn’t happen, but that is what we think will happen. We will look like a failure and all those around us will sit and point and say ‘ I told you so.’ So we stay between the lines, and rarely venture out, hoping that it will be enough. Enough to appease those around us, enough to appease us, and certainly enough to appease the great expectations.

But I have learned that for me, it’s not enough. Ever since I was a child, few things were ever enough. I pushed my parents limits until I was threatened to be sent away to boarding school, I pushed my teachers until I was kicked out of class, and I pushed myself on the volleyball court until I was a CIF champion and Ivy League Champion. To me, it all comes from the same pool. The unwillingness to conform comes from the same place within me as my willingness to be the best. I always knew I would have to take my own path to get where I want to go and it’s often not the easiest path. But this past year I have learned that if I believe in something, whether that is a person, idea, or business plan and it is slightly off or even way off the beaten path, then I can still go for it. Because at the end of the day, when I strip away everything, I am only left with myself and my expectations, and sometimes they are all that matter.

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