24th February 2021

What do you expect?


“The mood of these subject reports is one of cautious optimism”

My tutor’s summary of my A-level year school report from February 1991. I had failed one subject and barely scraped a pass in the others.

I don’t remember feeling cautious optimism then. I felt scared and upset. I expected to do OK in my mock exams. The comments about “obvious gaps and glaring mistakes” proved I had a long way to go.

The truth was that I hadn’t worked hard enough. I hadn’t taken it seriously and thought I’d be able to wing it. Even though my expectations were completely unrealistic, it still hurt when I failed to meet them.

Reflecting on that time 30 years ago, I started noticing a theme in recent conversations about people’s expectations of themselves.  People who are supporting and looking after others. People who recognise how difficult things are for team members, friends or family and want to do everything they can to help and to alleviate the burden on others. People who allow others to flex and change, step back and take time out.

These same people also expect themselves to carry on as “normal”. They expect to do their job in the same way, with the same results even though everything is different. They expect to bring people together, to pick up the slack, to juggle, manage and “just get on with it”.

Does this sound familiar?

What are you expecting?

“I just need to get on with it”

“I’m supposed to be the strong one”

“I look after everyone else”

If these are your expectations of yourself, what happens when things feel hard or when you don’t feel strong? What happens when you feel frustrated, scared, upset or overwhelmed? When you are not meeting your expectations of yourself, do you feel disappointed or maybe even ashamed?

Let’s flip those statements for a moment:

“You just need to get on with it”

“You’re supposed to be the strong one”

“You look after everyone else”

They sound pretty harsh don’t they? The reason you don’t meet these expectations is not because you haven’t tried hard enough (unlike me and my exams) it’s because the expectations weren’t achievable in the first place, no matter how hard you tried.  These expectations weren’t realistic for anyone!

So, take a moment to check in with yourself. What are your expectations of yourself right now? Are they realistic? Would you hold your friends, family or colleagues to these expectations? If not, then is it fair or kind to expect them of yourself?