Unrealistic and unexamined expectations are at the root of some of the gnarliest (and most common) problems that we face as entrepreneurs, leaders, and helping pros. Our behavior is impacted by the expectations that we and others hold, so if we don’t clearly assess these expectations, we can make choices that aren’t in our own best interest.
Here are some of the expectations that can really impact you:
First impressions do last and are hard to combat. When you present yourself a certain way, others will believe you and then expect you to fit into that version of yourself forever. It can be really hard to shift and evolve if people believe that you are one way, but you’ve really changed. This can be harmful in a number of ways. The first is that you’re always trying to correct their view of you and can end up getting defensive or reactionary in doing so. A second, more insidious way, is that you can remain beholden to that version of yourself and don’t make the necessary changes. You can become stagnant because you’re continuing to be who others expect you to be.
Become very clear on who you are, not who others perceive you to be. Fully embody this version of yourself and show the world that person without defense or apology. Clearly tell the story of your evolution and create a structure in your mind on how you will respond when others challenge you or treat you as though you have not grown or made any changes.
As Milgram showed us in his shocking experiment, most of us are obedient. When someone tells us we must do something, we usually do. I guess this compliance can be good for society at times (thank goodness most of us comply with the expectation that we’re not supposed to murder each other). However, as we saw during the Holocaust, this expectation of compliance can be devastating as well. At the individual level, this can look like attending events due to obligation or helping someone solely because they ask (not because they need or have earned your help or even that you have the capacity to give help). Compliance, in this way, means generally doing the things you feel you must do, without thinking about whether it serves you or not.
In your life, you want to make sure that you’re assessing what you’re being told to do. It can be so easy to say yes and take action without thinking. Instead, wait to comply. Take a breath and think through what you’re being asked to do. Make sure that you think about the consequences (intended and unintended, direct and indirect) and really weigh them. Practice saying “no” or “let me think about it.” Give yourself permission to be noncompliant and give yourself space to make an informed decision.
I have seen perfectionism equated with “seeking excellence,” where mistakes are attacked, and blame is sought. Heck, I’ve done it myself. Mistakes can feel like the enemy and we expect way too much of ourselves. Even more, when we can’t make mistakes, we don’t try anything new. When we’re trying to avoid mistakes at all cost, we don’t experiment – to the detriment of innovation and true progress.
Take time to really assess what you’re doing. Keep open space for creativity and messiness. Allow room for mistakes. I’m not saying to throw away your high standards. I’m saying that it’s also important to provide yourself with the space for unstructured time where you’re able to get innovative.
The definition of success often gets bogged down with what others expect you to want or what society values. There are a lot of shoulds here that come from how others define success (friends, colleagues, mentors, society). For example: To be successful, I should have a 6-figure income. To be a true helper I should give services away for free. I should become a certain type of practice owner. I should have this many clients. When we live based on these type of shoulds, we can constantly feel like we’re not good enough or that we’re not living up to our own expectations. However, when you’re not motivated by how you’ve defined success (because the definition isn’t really yours, but based on those around you), you don’t make progress toward that goal.
Clearly assess all the expectations you hold for yourself. What does it mean for you to be successful? What is your own unique recipe to thrive? Make sure that your definition of success aligns with your goals, your own values (not those that others think you should have), and your capabilities. Having strong expectations for yourself – especially those that are grounded in what you are realistically able to do, who you really want to be, and what you really want to accomplish – can be critical for making real progress.
It can be hard to go against expectations that have been strongly held. However, shifting your mindset, even a little bit, can help you make gigantic leaps forward.
It’s hard to know where your blind spots are. If you suspect you’re being impacted by your own unexamined expectations, schedule a 30-minute phone call with me, so we can identify what expectations are getting in your way.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out – by nature, you can’t know what you don’t know. I want to support you in moving past your limitations to your next level.