by Kibwé Johnson
Expectations are annoyingly tough to define. You often find yourself navigating the fine line between goal crushing euphoria, and the slippery slope of the seemingly insurmountable odds of reaching the peak of the tallest mountain. How can you possibly attempt to handle the expectation when you know that one misstep will send you careening down a crevasse of the internal, “I told you so?”
Whether self imposed, or from an external influence, failed expectations can have earth shattering repercussions. That may sound dramatic. Let’s look at one group of achievers in particular.
The US Navy SEAL’s. Can we all agree that goals and expectations play a significant role in these humans lives? They are exceptionally high functioning soldiers, willing to push themselves physically and cognitively to a point that we civilians honestly can’t really fathom.
The evidence is there to support that those that washout from BUDs, the 6-month Navy SEAL training course, can suffer catastrophic psychological trauma. In rare cases, resulting in death.
Another example; I trained for 10 years with the explicit purpose of earning my spot on the Olympic team. After competing and returning home, I found myself in a bit of a funk emotionally. Come to find out, there is something veteran olympic coaches refer to as ‘post olympic depression’. The same, I’m sure goes for anyone who trains with the expectation of -at minimum- an appearance at a specific endeavor. When you achieve it (or not), you reach a “now what?” stage. That’s where the magic happens.
How do you respond to, “Now What?”
My point is that this emotional collateral damage shines a light on the shear potential that managing exceptions can have on your life. We give expectations meaning. This meaning is converted into power. Once you’ve set that expectation, the closer you come to it, the closer you come to your ultimate power.
You can avoid the ‘now what?’ taking you down. Here’s how:
“Begin each day by telling yourself: today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil” *Marcus Aurelius
Train your mindset to understand that some of your expectations will be crushed by unavoidable random occurrences. You are well aware that you are going to encounter upsetting things.
In doing so, you have trained your brain to expect irregularities. This is the only way to operate. Far too many variables that you can’t control at play from the moment you leave your house. You must realize that you have all the power within you to handle every situation life throws at you.
Expectations Are Killing You
When you expect things to go a certain way, you have consciously set yourself up for potential disappointment. The big disappointment that changes you. This seemingly small trigger has an enormous impact.
When expectations do go the way you intend, carry on and move to the next one.
This does not mean that having expectations in and of themselves is a “bad” way to live. It means your goals should be on short term expectations that can be managed rather easily. Following expectations down a long timeline increases the likelihood of interruption that you cannot control. When that happens, all may be lost.
Let this be a reminder to why it’s important to attack. The impermanence of life leaves you with a choice. Should you lower your expectations so as to avoid disappointment? Heavens no! Understand and come to terms with the fact that you have set valid expectations. Therefore be content in the time and energy you put in the pursuit of that goal, regardless if you fall short.
Seek and You Will Find
After five consecutive years ending my season with roughly the same result while also ranking first or second in the US, I decided to change my entire situation. My own expectations, everything I thought possible needed an overhaul. As a result, I moved to a new training environment (with the all time most successful coach in my event). I made the change with two explicit goals.
I could have littered my goal setting with many other micro goals, but I concluded that if I focused on my two main goals, all others would fall into place. For the most part, they did.
The end of this particular story is that I “only” accomplished one of those goals. I indeed threw beyond 80m. A benchmark for men in my event. A feat only 3 Americans have ever done before me. And none since.
I did not, however win the Gold. I did make my first Olympic team, finishing 8th. The highest finish by an American in 16 years.
This is not a biography. I don’t wish to bore you. I mention those bits because it is important to have expectations of yourself. It is important to strive for greatness because you want, and indeed, need to to live a fulfilled life. You are accountable to yourself. An “accountabilibuddy”. Be strict with your personal expectation schedule, yet gracious with your expectations of others. If you do this, there is nothing you can’t do.
Power Without Control
“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything that happens in life!” *Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius reiterates that we have little control on the external. Do not despair in that fact! Relish it, as it is your source of true power. You know things can, and will go awry. Therefore, when they do, you will feel empowered and conquer them because you take comfort in the fact that you are not injured. You are not dead. The worst that can happen is a minor setback. Your perception is what will decide how long that event sets you back.
Based much more in realism, but not so strict so as not to allow the freedom of hope. The trick is management of the two in the midst of traversing this crazy world. Rest assured, no matter the expectation, or the result, you CAN stare immense pressure in the eye and emerge victorious unscathed.