Many people are afraid of setting an expectation. They believe it creates too much pressure or too often leads to disappointment. Where would we be without these two strong motivators? To grow, it is necessary to feel stress and to experience disappointment. The problem is not expectations, but our tendency to make them unrealistic.
We can all relate to new parents, even if we don’t have children. Bringing a child into this world leads to some of the most potent expectations of any event. Near the birth date and after the birth, imposter syndrome can slip in. Parents become terrified of the task at hand and feel they have no business being responsible for another human. I remember my brother and his wife getting the ultrasound for their first pregnancy. My brother held his wife’s hand as the doctor applied the gel and starting moving the wand over her. They had that new parents glow. The doctor talked as she worked, mentioning a foot or a hand as she came across them. A few minutes into the procedure, my brother hears the phrase, “Oh, look. Twins, like we thought.” To this day, he can visualize that moment like it was an hour ago. The thought of doubling the physical, emotional, and financial effort made him dizzy and nauseous.
Once the baby arrives and they settle in, the planning of the future begins. Late nights are spent planning out education and career paths. They start developing their parenting style and come up with ideas on how to balance work and marriage with raising a child. No need to compare themselves with other first time parents. Those before them didn’t have the same drive, attitude, and genius. It will all be fantastic and work as planned.
The years fly by. The pressure builds, and the disappointments pile up—time to adjust expectations to a more realistic level and keep working at it.
Consider the first time half-marathon runner. A decision to go from the couch to a long, athletic event is often preceded by deciding to make a health change. Maybe the initial expectation is to drop a few pounds, lower cholesterol, or fight a diabetic condition. The journey is daunting, and the initial workouts are a struggle. It’s hard to get out of bed and start those early morning workouts. A diet change is unbearable. Who in their right mind can eat like this and be happy? This is impossible.
They plug away, and the months pass. The workouts become easier, the diet has become routine, and they feel great. A six-mile run is now an easy task. The weight loss has surpassed the initial goals. Maybe it’s possible to double the weight loss. Instead of just finishing the half-marathon, the elusive sub-two-hour finish is possible.
I have clear memories of training for my first half-marathon. The weeks flew by while the runs got longer. My first ten-mile run was brutal. I didn’t think I was going to make it back to the car. Every part of my body hurt. Even my ears hurt from my headphones. How could I possibly add three more miles to this task? On top of that, the weight loss had plateaued. This is the point where most fitness enthusiasts will decide to quit. It’s hard for us to adjust our expectations once we believe they are possible. It’s not that they aren’t possible; they just may not be possible at this time.
Nothing may be as susceptible to the sliding scale of expectations as writing. The low barrier to entry and endless platforms for expression lead many into a familiar trap. The rise and ease of self-publishing have extended this pain to the novelist. I have a personal relationship with this experience.
I wasn’t surprised by the imposter syndrome when I started writing my novel, Reclaiming Our Own. You don’t take twenty years to finish a novel if you believe you belong in that world. The logical side of me was, however, blindsided by the feeling of genius after I self-published.
Completing a novel is a monumental feat. Anyone who makes it to the finish line should be proud of that accomplishment. As I soon discovered, self-publishing the novel was easier than marketing and selling it. But, hey, my work is better than most new authors. My cover is eye-catching and professional. This book will sell tens of thousands of copies. I will be able to quit my job and become a full-time author after one book.
It didn’t take long to realize I was way out of bounds on my expectations. Statistically speaking, a first-time self-published author sells less than fifty copies of that first book. I took a step back and revisited my expectations. My original focus was to finish the novel, self-publish, and write a novel every eighteen months. The end game was to publish ten novels by the time I reached retirement age. Hopefully, this would lead to selling enough books to have a decent supplemental retirement income and keep on writing. I’m happy to say I have sold over one thousand copies in ten months. I’m ecstatic with that result and have started plugging away at the next one.
Don’t shy away from setting expectations for yourself. Put some thought into them and make them realistic. That doesn’t mean they need to be easy. Make them hard enough that you have to work for it. You may come up a bit short or fail altogether. Make a new plan and get back to it. Don’t fear disappointment or failure. They are vital to our growth and success.