Monday, March 14, 2011

Great Expectations

For the past few days, I've been wrestling with this truism:

You Get What You Expect.

Half empty? Half full? What do you expect?
A friend was recently bemoaning her current situation.

I suggested that her expectations would be met, no matter what they were. If she expects not to be able to find a job, she won't. If she expects to work at a place that doesn't value her expertise and labor, that's where she'll end up. If she expects to find a job working for people who think she's amazing, she will.

The big questions are: What do you want? and What do you want to do?

Follow your dream and do what you want. But you'll never achieve anything worthwhile if you don't believe it's possible.

Those who know you may know you can do a thing. But they don't count. You need to know you can do something before it will happen.

My friend countered with a lengthy list of every roadblock standing in her way. Her education, her career choice, her family, her finances. All were huge, mountain-sized obstacles, impossible to surmount and overcome. At the end of this litany of woe, she said:

It's not a matter of what I expect in life. If that was the case of just being able to expect it, you would be richer and have the career you wanted, it just doesn't work like that.
Ah, my glass-half-empty friend, I'm so sorry to say, but it does. You see, after much soul-searching, I have come to realize that I DO have what I expect.

I DO have the career I want. I make a living writing. But the crux of the matter -- the niggling little truth that my friend hit upon -- is that deep down at the soul level, I don't expect to make a fortune at it. Writing is too much fun, I hear my inner voice whisper. Something this fun can't possibly make you a ton of income.

In The Wedding Date (an arguably awful movie with the premise that a gigolo is the ideal candidate for a serious relationship when one has a broken heart), the main character operates on the philosophy that everyone has the relationship he or she expects.

Of course its easy to argue against such claims. "I never expected him to be an alcoholic. Or a drug addict. Or to sleep around. With my mother. And my grandmother. And my sister. And my brother. I certainly never expected him to steal my IRA. And my savings account. And my shih tzu!"

However, a germ of truth lies at the heart of the Theory of Expectation. Because as nearly everyone on the outside of a relationship looking in knows: if the relationship wasn't what you expected, you would leave.

Ingrained expectations are the reason why a woman I know refuses to give the time of day to a man who has adored her for years. Her father was a hard hearted, heavy handed man. This is what she expects a "real man" to be. Her expectations have caused her to lose out on a lifetime of love.

Expectations are often the reason why people stay with abusers, take back adulterers, endure disrespect, and excuse the inexcusable. We say we know what we want. But in reality, what we expect is much more of a defining factor that determines what we get.


In the 1960's, psychologist Robert Rosenthal conducted several landmark studies on expectancy.

In one, rats chosen at random, and labeled "maze dull" or "maze bright" actually performed according to their labels.

In another, 1st & 2nd grade students labeled at random as "ready to bloom" at the beginning of a school year showed marked IQ test improvement over their peers at year's end.

When it comes to my writing income, I have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, lately I've been revisiting the Expectation Truism and meeting it head-on. Because expectations, once recognized, can be changed.

What expectations do you have for your writing? Have they helped or hindered your success thus far? What are your plans for bringing your expectations more in line with your dreams for success? I invite you to share your views in the comments below. 

1 comment:

Sonia M said...

Hard words to hear sometimes but true nonetheless.