Why the Only Expectations That Matter are Yours

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It’s about this time of year when we start hearing about “Cinderella stories” and Davids taking down Goliaths. We’re keyed in on teams we’ve never heard of in the hopes of watching them take down one of college basketball’s more storied programs. It’s March Madness--the season of the underdog.

For the next couple weeks, we’re going to be bombarded with feel-good stories about the little team that could, or about how you can get the glass slipper to fit in your very own Cinderella story. That’s all fine and good, I mean, who couldn’t use a few feel-good stories in their life, you know? But focusing on the underdog angle leaves out, and dare I say, marginalizes, the other side of the equation: the pressure of expectation.

The best thing about being an underdog is that there are no real expectations. No one expects success, they’re just pleased to be in the position where success is technically possible. To use a casino analogy, they’re playing with house money. If and when failure meets the underdog, there’s no shame at all. After all, you made it there! That’s amazing! But if you win? Whew! Hold on to your hats, people, because bedlam is about to ensue.

But what about the Goliath in that scenario? I can tell you from experience that being expected to perform and succeed carries with it a pressure unlike any other. Any slip-up is met with disdain and disappointment. There is no “good job” waiting for you, or satisfaction just for being there.

We know how to navigate the world of the underdog, but what about the world laced with expectations?


Pressure at work can come in a lot of different forms. It can come from past performance, or from being given a chance to prove yourself in a higher position, or from the need to succeed to feed yourself and your family. This pressure is very real and very powerful, but the important thing to keep in mind is that this pressure should come from you.

What I mean by this is don’t let someone else’s expectations, or your assumption of what their expectations are, turn you into a ball of anxiety. If you were just given a promotion, or just started a new business, you should have high expectations! But those expectations should be high because you expect yourself to succeed in your way. Not because someone expects you to succeed in theirs.


Family and friends are invaluable in your life. They usually want, or think they want, what’s best for you, and they are willing to sacrifice anything to make sure you get it. However, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced on some level, our expectations for ourselves, and those of our loved ones, don’t always match up. That’s ok.

I know how difficult it is to stand up to family, and even friends, and defy their expectations of how you should live your life, but it’s an important thing to do. How many stories have you heard about a parent over-coaching a child only to have that child become proficient, maybe even great, and abruptly quit because the parent expects greatness all the time? The fact is, most people won’t be world-class performers, but most of those who are, are world-class because they expect it of themselves, not because someone else expects it of them. As soon as expectations of greatness come from the outside, anything less than perfection is a dismal failure.

Don’t let someone on the outside determine how you feel about your performance. You didn’t live up to their expectations? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’re working towards living up to yours. After all, just having the ability to fail is its own success.

Until next time - be your own Goliath.

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When Arye isn't helping optimize your time, he is doing his part to ensure life is full of shenanigans.