Are your expectations too low or too high?

A variety of conversations over the past few months have me focused on expectations.

  • I rave about it when I am a customer and someone exceeds my expectations.
  • I prefer to work with people who want to exceed the expectations of their key-stakeholders and customer.
  • And I delight in finding ways to provide that kind of service to others.

As a result I’ve historically struggled to be on the receiving end of poor service, and really struggled to work with titled leaders that don’t care about anything but meeting minimum standards.

 So imagine living life in a place where:

  • Minimum standards are not predefined and consistency is not the norm.
    • Multiple items on the menu are frequently not available.
    • Businesses frequently don’t open on time.
    • Business phones are not always answered.
    • And you don’t want to know what public restrooms look like!
  • Accountability is one extreme or the other with not much in between:
    • There is none OR limbs and lives are at risk.
  • Discrimination not against the law it is the law.

A few months ago one of my neighbors was expressing frustration about how a special event she attended did not meet her expectations.

She was sad because she’s lived here longer than I have and has learned that in spite of what is and isn’t she has figured out that there are ways to create high-quality experiences.  …And as a result she has come to expect a different norm here than I have.

As she expressed her thoughts I realized that we don’t share the same vision of what is possible here.

The mirror she held up cause me to recognize that:

  • In a different time and place the idea of lowering my standards was almost against my religion.
  • When I came here I also made a choice to alter my expectations, knowing that if I focused a lot of energy on the things I could not control I would be frustrated all of the time.

That conversation made me ponder my history and my present choices, and I wondered if I’d altered my expectations too much, or if I’d wisely prevented energy leaks.

And as I pondered I remembered reading this on my Aunt’s wall each time I visited her home when I was little…

God grant me…

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change those I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had several additional conversations, with a variety of people, about different topics but all in relation to the norms here.

  • Some spend absolutely no energy or time considering what they can’t control.
  • Some don’t like parts of their experiences, but are afraid to rock the boat they are in and choose to do nothing.
  • Some are raging against what they can’t control and complain to people that don’t have the power to fix anything.
  • And some are trying to figure out what changes they can influence.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

  • Is it healthy to lower your expectations and accept what is?
  • Can you grow if you never raise your expectations of yourself, your loved ones or your organization?
  • How do you decide when to accept and when to be courageous?

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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4 thoughts on “Are your expectations too low or too high?

  1. Is it healthy to lower your expectations and accept what is?
    When comparing my own progress against my goals, it isn’t healthy to get ambivalent and lower expectations just because I feel like coasting. But I have to let people make that choice themselves. I don’t know their story and am not going to project my standards onto them. Accepting people where they are whether I agree or not is my preference. Someone else might disagree with me. That’s up to them.

    Can you grow if you never raise your expectations of yourself, your loved ones or your organization? There is no growth without the raise in expectation. The word raise is not by accident. We grow by stretching ourselves. We can support loved ones, we can support our organizations. We can go out of our way to help them grow – but remember you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink There comes a point of diminishing returns. Where is the balance of acceptance or pushing?

    How do you decide when to accept and when to be courageous? If the cards are on the table, the communication has been effective – meaning discussion has taken place without fury or the silent treatment – and each person has made their decision, that’s the pivotal point. If your persuasion has not made them budge, you decide to accept or go ahead with what you want to do realizing that your choices have consequences either good or bad.

  2. What a great inquiry Chery! I’m not sure I equate accepting what is with lowering expectations. The alternative to acceptance is what I call “arguing with reality” – it’s an argument you can never win so why waste your energy? The serenity prayer says it perfectly I think! Yet there is a third option – take a stand for a new possibility. No one person can right every wrong or bring about excellence in everything. That stand can be as simple as, for example, refusing to act in discriminatory ways rather than unconsciously adopting discriminatory beliefs and behaviors. It can be as bold as Malala taking a stand for the education of girls. I read something recently that suggested the real meaning of passion is something you are willing to die for. That is the ultimate stand. There are a lot of choices we can make on the continuum from acceptance to being willing to take a stand that could cost us our life. Perhaps it isn’t the choice between acceptance and lowering expectations but rather the choice between choosing peace and choosing to change the world. Both can have a profound effect on us and others so I’d venture to say either choice will make a difference.

    • Thank you so much for engaging on this Susan!

      I’ve gone back and forth on accepting and lowering expectations and keep thinking of several examples where the path to a peaceful heart was to alter my expectations. Sometimes with great understanding and grace and other times reluctantly and without so much understanding or grace.

      I love the language you shared of choosing peace or choosing to change the world. And then I think of people like Nelson Mandela and MLK that chose to change the world so others could have peace.