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Keeping It Real: Dying to Live Up to Expectations

Up to whose expectations am I trying to live?

The too-easy answer for a person with a Christian spirituality like myself is God’s.

That’s the “right” answer. The textbook answer. In light of the goodness and power and perfection of God, how could any other set of expectations be considered?

image credit to Unnikrishna Menon DamodaranThe problem with the “right” answer is that truncates our thinking about the issue before it even begins. We know that God never expects humans to be less than human. So free and responsible thinkers we must continue to be.

The “good boy/good girl” answer is to cooperate with those under whose authority we work. Our job is to meet the expectations of our boss. This option seems reasonable at first blush… that is until we experience our first supervisor whose expectations are not so reasonable.

The problem with the “good boy/good girl” answer is that, again, we find ourselves checking our brains, our skills and our experience at the door in deference, in this case, to the brain, skills and experience sitting higher on the organizational chart.

This is a child’s response to expectations. “You’ll do it because I said so.” The rationale is simply a passive submission to authority. No discussion of issues. No debate of alternatives. No contribution of personal wisdom. Except maybe in crisis or in the military, it is never healthy for an adult to show up at work as a child.

The “noble” answer is to throw yourself in front of the bus to save the others. Your spouse’s happiness is more important than your own so you sacrifice the career that would be the best fit for you in order to keep him or her happy. Your co-worker’s stresses and struggles are more important than yours, so you sacrifice your own work quality in order to help them with theirs.

The problem with the “noble” answer is that it devalues you at enormous personal cost. You cooperate in your own self-diminishment under the guise of putting others’ needs and interest ahead of your own.

Notice I said, “guise.” This is a tough one for those of us who hold values that include sacrificial compassion on behalf of others. I am making a distinction between a free and responsible, adult choice to care for another at some personal loss and the trapped and powerless deep belief that you don’t deserve, aren’t worth, shouldn’t have or are selfish if you have anything good while someone else is in need.

I suggest we set our own expectations of ourselves. Doing so would be an exercise of the free and responsible choice God has entrusted to us. Doing so would be an adult response to the commitments, responsibilities and organizational structures with which we have chosen to involve ourselves. Doing so would be a mutual and interactive encounter with the other people in our lives who have their own needs, aspirations and complex lives.

The problem of setting and living up to our own expectations would come only if our expectations were disconnected from reality. Disconnected from our spirituality, disconnected from our workplace responsibilities, disconnected from our commitments and relationships.

Instead of dying under the weight of expectations coming at us from every direction, I’m going to try living up to the expectations I set for myself. I’ll bet I please God, my boss and my key relationships in ways no one even imagined.

Keeping It Real is a column where I put what I am learning out on the table. No faking. No posturing. No pretending. Just learning. Always learning. 
Beware of the leader who is not always learning.

2 Responses to “Keeping It Real: Dying to Live Up to Expectations”

  1. Marcus Goodyear Says:

    I like the idea that we can think of ourselves as martyrs, giving away too much, never knowing when to say no, and never really following our gifts and talents.

    The problem for me is that my expectations for myself are often not very realistic. In some ways, I want the world and I want it now. Instead, I try to be content to do a good day’s work, tick a few things off the list, and move an inch or two in the right direction.

  2. Karl Edwards Says:


    Dreamers and visionaries like yourself often have a hard time accepting that the rest of us do not either see, believe or sometimes even want what you see so clearly, believe so deeply and want so desperately for the world.

    Thank you for bringing your perceptive eyes that see what others cannot, your heart that beats so passionately when so many pulses are barely discernable, and your mind that analyzes with such critical excellence, while others seem to be sleep walking.

    If being realistic means diminishing or holding back on any of these amazing traits of yours, then my fervent prayer is that you never experience a realistic day in your life!

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